Censoring Scientific Inquiry

I don’t believe in shutting down scientific inquiry, fact finding, evidence testing, hypothesis evaluation, and theory, just because it doesn’t fit my politics. I consider that unhealthy and reflects on poor mental health. I’m not a “my beliefs or the highway” person. If you show me the facts are contrary to what I believe, then I reevaluate my beliefs. Not offended. Not scared. I can be wrong. And that is what science is all about. It’s okay to be wrong in the inquiry of knowledge, verified by the pursuit of facts and evidence testing. Trying to shut down science is like trying to shut down knowledge. It’s not helpful to an informed citizenry. Ever.


Study: Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All [motherjones.com]

Are science and religion doomed to eternal “warfare,” or can they just get along? Philosophers, theologians, scientists, and atheists debate this subject endlessly (and often, angrily). We hear a lot less from economists on the matter, however. But in arecent paper, Princeton economist Roland Bénabou and two colleagues unveiled a surprising finding that would at least appear to bolster the “conflict” camp: Both across countries and also across US states, higher levels of religiosity are related to lower levels of scientific innovation.

“Places with higher levels of religiosity have lower rates of scientific and technical innovation, as measured by patents per capita,” comments Bénabou. He adds that the pattern persists “when controlling for differences in income per capita, population, and rates of higher education.”

That’s the most salient finding from the paper by Bénabou and his colleagues, which uses an economic model to explore how scientific innovation, religiosity, and the power of the state interact to form different “regimes.” The three kinds of regimes that they identify: a secular, European-style regime in which religion has very little policy influence and science garners great support; a repressive, theocratic regime in which the state and religion merge to suppress science; and a more intermediate, American-style regime in which religion and science both thrive, with the state supporting science and religions (mostly) trying to accommodate themselves to its findings.

It is in the process of this inquiry on the relationship between science, religion, and the state that the researchers dive into an analysis of patents, both in the United States and across the globe. And the results are pretty striking.

Click on this link to read the rest of the article:


When Belief and Facts Collide [nytimes.com]

by Brendan Nyhan / nytimes.com

Do Americans understand the scientific consensus about issues like climate change and evolution?

At least for a substantial portion of the public, it seems like the answer is no. The Pew Research Center, for instance, found that 33 percent of the publicbelieves “Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time” and 26 percent think there is not “solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades.” Unsurprisingly, beliefs on both topics are divided along religious and partisan lines. For instance, 46 percent of Republicans said there is not solid evidence of global warming, compared with 11 percent of Democrats.

As a result of surveys like these, scientists and advocates have concluded that many people are not aware of the evidence on these issues and need to be provided with correct information. That’s the impulse behind efforts like the campaign to publicize the fact that 97 percent of climate scientistsbelieve human activities are causing global warming.

In a new study, a Yale Law School professor, Dan Kahan, finds that the divide over belief in evolution between more and less religious people iswider among people who otherwise show familiarity with math and science, which suggests that the problem isn’t a lack of information. When he instead tested whether respondents knew the theory of evolution, omitting mention of belief, there was virtually no difference between more and less religious people with high scientific familiarity. In other words, religious people knew the science; they just weren’t willing to say that they believed in it.

Mr. Kahan’s study suggests that more people know what scientists think about high-profile scientific controversies than polls suggest; they just aren’t willing to endorse the consensus when it contradicts their political or religious views. This finding helps us understand why my colleagues and I have found that factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines. With science as with politics, identity often trumps the facts.

Click this link to continue reading the article:


Is There a Brain Region Associated with a Belief in Social Justice? [io9.com]

by Annalee Newitz / io9.com

socialjusticeSome people believe that we could live in a just world where everybody gets what they deserve. Others believe that’s impossible. Now, neuroscientists say they have evidence that the “just world hypothesis” is a cognitive bias that’s connected with a specific part of the brain.

This does not mean there is a “social justice center” in your brain. What neurologist Michael Schaefer and colleagues discovered is that there is a slightly different pattern of electrical impulses shooting through the brains of people who believe in a just world. They asked people whether they believed in a just world, then put them in an fMRI machine and then asked them to ponder scenarios where people broke from social norms or conformed to them.

Previously, other neuroscientists had identified brain areas that become active when people perceive norm violations. So the group knew that if those areas were lit up in the fMRI, all they were seeing was a response to norm violations in general. But what they found was that a few additional brain regions became active in people who believe in a just world. So they now believe there could be some physiological component to a belief in social justice.

Here’s the researchers’ abstract:

Previous studies identified a network of brain regions involved in the perception of norm violations, including insula, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and right temporoparietal junction area (RTPJ). Activations in these regions are suggested to reflect the perception of norm violations and unfairness. The current study aimed to test this hypothesis by exploring whether a personal disposition to perceive the world as being just is related to neural responses to moral evaluations. The just-world-hypothesis describes a cognitive bias to believe in a just world in which everyone gets what he or she deserves and deserves what he or she gets. Since it has been demonstrated that ACC, RTPJ, and insula are involved in the perception of unfairness, we hypothesized that individual differences in the belief in a just world are reflected by different activations of these brain areas. Participants were confronted with scenarios describing norm-violating or -confirming behavior. FMRI results revealed an activation of dorsal ACC, RTPJ, and insula when perceiving norm violations, but only activity in insula/somatosensory cortex correlated with the belief in a just world. Thus, our results suggest a role for insula/somatosensory cortex for the belief in a just world.

I can see the dystopian science fiction possibilities erupting out of your brains already. Imagine a terrifying Neurofascist regime, which uses neural pacemakers to prevent the “social justice” part of your brain from activating when you see soldiers killing people, or when you see innocent people being arrested. The possibilities are endless.

The science fictional possibilities are endless, that is. In terms of real-life science, this is just a tiny shred of evidence that could mean a lot of things.

Read the full scientific paper via PubMed


Why We Make New Year’s Resolutions [livescience.com]

By Stephanie Pappas, Senior Writer   |   December 31, 2013 07:56am ET

Planning to exercise more or eat fewer sweets in the New Year? If so, you’re taking part in a tradition that stretches back thousands of years.

Ancient people practiced the fine art of New Year’s resolutions, though their oaths were external, rather than internally focused. More than 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year not in January, but in March, when the spring harvest came in. The festival, called Akitu, lasted 12 days.

An important facet of Akitu was the crowning of a new king, or reaffirmation of loyalty to the old king, should he still sit on the throne. Special rituals also affirmed humanity’s covenant with the gods; as far as Babylonians were concerned, their continued worship was what kept creation humming.

Roman New Year

Centuries later, the ancient Romans had similar traditions to ring in their new year, which also originally began in March. In the early days ofRome, the city magistrates’ terms were defined by this New Year’s date. On March 1, the old magistrates would affirm before the Roman Senate that they had performed their duties in accordance with the laws. Then, the New Year’s magistrates would be sworn into office.

Click here to continue reading the story…

Quote of the Day: Clothing Humanity


“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Scientists just don’t understand Spider Sex (and the resulting Cannibalism) [io9.com]

by Annalee Newitz / io9.com

We call those deadly spiders with the red hourglass shapes on their abdomens “black widows” because they eat their mates as part of the sex act. But black widows are far from the only spiders who sexually cannibalize, and some insects and fish do it too. It’s just a natural part of some animals’ reproductive process. So why use a term like “widow” for a creature who has no notion of marriage, and who is part of a species that evolved to eat or be eaten during sex? That’s what British biologist Emily Burdfield-Steele and her colleagues wanted to find out.

Their hypothesis was that people, including scientists, were grossly misunderstanding spider reproduction because they couldn’t stop anthropomorphizing the creatures involved. Instead of seeing a natural spider sex act, they kept seeing “widows” and “male sacrifices.” Those are decidedly human ideas. To find out whether this anthropocentric bias was pervasive, the biologists conducted a survey of 47 scientific papers about sexual cannibalism, to see how the act was described. Not surprisingly, they discovered a lot of non-scientific (and inaccurate) terms like “rapacious” and “voracious” attributed to the females; the males were called “unwilling” and “suicidal” in some cases. They created a fascinating chart of the most popular human-centric terms used to describe the spidery experience of sexual cannibalism.

Spidey SexClick image at right to enlarge to enlarge.

In their paper published earlier this month in Animal Behavior, the researchers describe what you’re seeing in this chart:

Frequency of terms used when describing male and female behaviour of sexually cannibalistic species considered separately for (a) studies in which cannibalism occurs before and/or during copulation (26 papers) and (b) studies in which cannibalism occurs only during and/or after copulation (17 papers), excluding reviews. See the appendices for references and excluded words. The frequency for each sex is the number of articles the term appears in, in the context of describing behaviour. Words were also classified by three independent observers as active (a), reactive (re) or neutral (n). Terms marked with an asterisk were classified differently by at least two of the parties and so could not be given an overall classification.

It’s fascinating to see how the females are more often described as “attacking” or “predatory” if they eat their mates before or during sex, versus afterwards. Maybe eating somebody after sex doesn’t strike us as being quite so aggressive?

Click here to read the rest of the article…