Posts Tagged ‘research’
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 22, 2013
As I’ve written before, it seems that there is a growing secular and non-religious demographic in the United States that is starting to speak up. This topic is the subject of a recent opinion piece that I read on the Washington Post’s Guest Voices blog, and I found the analysis by the author, Jacques Berlinerblau, to be worth noting…
By Jacques Berlinerblau
When it comes to not making optimistic, pie-in-the-sky pronouncements about American secularism I have almost unparalleled street cred. For years I have rued and bemoaned and lamented the fate of this poor mangled –ism.
But in the past few months there have been some positive and unexpected developments both here and abroad as well.The first is far less obvious than it might seem. By far, the best thing that has happened to American secularism in about half a century was that the reactionary 2012 iteration of the Republican party, while not McGovernized, was pretty thoroughly thrashed. To the long list of those in this country who were perplexed and repulsed by this aberrant version of the GOP (e.g., Latinos, African-Americans, gays, women) let us add secular Americans. …
… I want to stress that Republicans, historically, have not been anti-secular nor should the same be said about many of their core convictions. The shift occurred with the synergies that developed between Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the late 1970s. In fits and starts the relation between the Christian Right and the Republicans has grown for three decades. Did it crest in 2012? Will a humbled GOP shuck the divisive God-botherers in its midst? That is the question that secularists are eagerly—nay, gleefully—posing. …
Indeed, I can be counted among those secularists who are hoping quite strongly that the Republican party can finally free itself from the stranglehold of the religious right. Unfortunately, the religious right is dug so deeply into the GOP that they will not go quietly nor easily; methinks the Republican party is in for a long and nasty internal fight.
However, there is a note of caution to be heard…
… I am a pessimist by nature so let me raise a few caveats about the political potency of the nones. The first is that their Election Day turnout was somewhat underwhelming (they were 12 percent of the electorate though they are nearly 20 percent of the population). They actually gave less of their ballot to Obama in 2012 than they did in 2008 (70 percent down from 75 percent).
Most crucially, they are not an organized, disciplined, well-funded political juggernaut like the Christian Right, but a category on a demographer’s clipboard. The Democrats will need to organize and mobilize them (and perhaps this is why Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast gave them a shout out when he referred to “those of no faith that they can name”).
This is why I want to note, buzzkillingly, that 2012 was more a victory for secularism than a victory by secularism. But a victory nonetheless! Moreover, secularists can’t help but wonder if the pope’s recent resignation signals, at the very least, a set back for the global anti-secular platform. …
So, long story short, the “nones” should be happy to celebrate this victory, but we should not be so naive as to think that progress on those secular issues important to us will simply march along all by itself. The moment that we take our eye off the political ball, I think the religious right – which is more well-funded and organized than the secular movement – will swoop in and attempt to drag us all back to the Dark Ages.
Rather than rest on our laurels, this moment should serve to motivate us to become more involved in secular issues. We need to make sure to defend church-state separation, stand up for strong science education, and seek to curb the influence of sectarian religious groups upon our government. My suggestion is that you take some time to learn more about groups like the Secular Coalition for America and consider signing up with them. Get involved, get active, and we can make a more secular nation a reality!
Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: 2012, agnostic, atheism, atheist, belief, conservative, demographics, election, evangelical, God, GOP, Jacques Berlinerblau, no-religious, non-religious, none, Obama, party, politics, poll, Protestant, religion, religious, religious right, Republican, research, right, right wing, SCA, secular, Secular Coalition for America, secularism, survey, unaffiliated, Washington Post, white | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2013
If you’ve been paying attention to the U.S. political news of late, then you know that a crucial fiscal deadline is approaching: the dreaded sequestration cuts across the board to all federal programs. As a supporter of strong science education and scientific research programs, this alarms me quite a bit. To make such deep and long-lasting cuts in our most basic science research and education programs would be like eating our seed corn, with the result that scientific and technological innovation and education would be starved of critical funding at a time when we need it the most.
So I encourage you to read, sign, and pass along the following petition from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) imploring Congress to seek a bipartisan solution to this problem:
On behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we—as researchers, professionals, students and interested citizens in the science, technology, engineering and math fields—write to ask both branches of government to work together to achieve a bipartisan compromise that moves the country on to sound fiscal footing without sacrificing our nation’s crucial investments in science and technology. Almost every national priority—from health and defense, agriculture and conservation, to hazards and natural disasters—relies on science and engineering. As another fiscal cliff approaches, placing a significant burden on federal research and development investments, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness. Support for science is support for economic growth, innovation, and technological progress. Please consider this as you seek to address our nation’s pressing fiscal challenges.
Click here to sign the petition!
Posted in education, politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: AAAS, America, American Association for the Advancement of Science, bipartisan, budget, congress, deficit, education, engineering, federal, innovation, math, politics, research, revenue, science, sequestration, STEM, taxes, technology, United States, US, USA | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2013
If you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, then you know that I’ve touched on the topic of a rising secular and non-religious demographic in the United States; in fact, now 1-in-5 Americans label themselves as non-religious. I also wrote about Kyrsten Sinema, a newly elected Congresswoman who has openly identified herself as atheist. Well, it seems that there is now a convergence between these two things emerging, because this new Congress now contains the highest number of openly non-religious members in history!
It’s not just for religious fundamentalists anymore
This Politico story has more details:
By CHARLES MAHTESIAN | 1/5/13 2:34 PM EST
The number of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion is on the rise, according to an analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
In the 96th Congress (1979-80), not a single member of the House or Senate said they didn’t belong to any particular faith, didn’t know or refused to disclose their religion. But in the new 113th Congress, 10 members fall under that category.
That’s twice as many as in the 111th Congress (2009-10).
Pew notes there’s still a great disparity between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion. …
… The numbers here caught my eye, not because of the disparity between non-believers in the general population and in Congress, but because I was surprised so many members actually admitted to it. … [emphasis added]
Exactly. I, and many others, have long suspected that there are a good number of closeted “nones” in our Congress, but up until now they’ve been cautious about self-identifying as non-religious for fear of electoral backlash. However, it seems that, slowly but surely, those days are drawing to a close
Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: 2012, agnostic, atheism, atheist, belief, congress, demographics, election, federal, Kyrsten Sinema, no-religious, non-religious, non-theist, none, nontheist, Pete Stark, Pew Poll, Pew Research Center, politics, poll, religion, religious, religious right, research, secular, secularism, survey, unaffiliated, United States, US, USA | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 6, 2013
I wanted to pass along to everyone a call-to-arms which hits really close to home for me… literally. As a science teacher, I am especially concerned with seeing that public institutions that promote good science education are protected. This usually means that I am defending our public schools from creationism or other nonsense, but there is another insitution which often goes overlooked: museums. Case in point: the Field Museum of Natural History, perhaps one of the best public educational/research institutions in the country, is in real trouble. Please take a few minutes to read this excellent Skepticblog post by Donald Prothero and consider taking action!
Save the Field Museum!
by Donald Prothero, Jan 02 2013
Buried in all the news of the end of the world, the “fiscal cliff”, and the holiday season was another item that probably escaped most people’s attention. The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, one of the world’s foremost natural history museums, is planning huge cutbacks in their scientific staff in the next few weeks. Details of who will be cut are sketchy, but the news raced through my professional community and made us all very upset. This is not only because many people who are our personal friends will be losing their jobs because of mismanagement at the top, but also because such a disastrous move would hurt science in many ways that the general public may not appreciate. …
… Most people think a museum is just a bunch of exhibits of fossils or art on display, but don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes. As Jerry Coyne also points out in his post, a top museum like the Field is also one of the most important research institutions in the country, with curators who are among the top scientists in their area of research. Just like university research professors, these curators must pursue research grants and find funding to do important scientific projects. Unlike most university research scientists (who don’t have a place to store too many specimens if they find them), museum curators tend to focus on research that recovers new specimens, and adds to the total resource base for scientific research. Without this material, our data base for research and understanding topics in the fossil record would dry up, because there is no else out there to perform such an important role. I’ve known nearly all the vertebrate paleontology curators at the Field Museum (both past and present) for many years, and most are among the sharpest minds in our field, doing essential science that few others could perform. …
Click here to read the rest of Donald’s post
Click here to take action!
Posted in education, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: Chicago, Donald Prothero, education, Field Museum, finances, funding, money, museum, natural history, petition, public, research, scientists, Skepticblog | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 4, 2012
Okay, no doubt by now some of you have heard all about the news that some “scientist” claims to have sequenced the DNA of Bigfoot, concluding that Bigfoot is at least partially human. Specifically, according to the following LiveScience.com article by my skeptical colleague Benjamin Radford…
Genetic testing confirms the legendary Bigfoot is a human relative that arose some 15,000 years ago — at least according to a press release issued by a company called DNA Diagnostics detailing supposed work by a Texas veterinarian.
The release and alleged study by Melba S. Ketchum also suggests such cryptids had sex with modern human females that resulted in hairy hominin hybrids, but the scientific community is dubious about her claim.
“A team of scientists can verify that their five-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called ‘Bigfoot’ or ‘Sasquatch,’ living in North America,” the release reads. “Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago.”…
Ooh! Bigfoot-human hybrid freaky furry sex! Are you interested yet?
Seriously, this is just beyond stupid, folks. And a little deeper look at the article points out exactly why this whole thing is, at best, viewed with a decidely skeptical eye and, at worst, deserves to be roundly derided in every corner of the Internet for the cryptozoological flummery it most likely is:
… So where’s the evidence? Well, there is none. Not yet, anyway: Ketchum’s research has not appeared in any peer-reviewed scientific journal, and there’s no indication when that might happen. If the data are good and the science is sound, any reputable science journal would jump at the chance to be the first to publish this groundbreaking information. Until then, Ketchum has refused to let anyone else see her evidence. … [emphasis added]
So let me get this straight: she puts together a press-release claiming that she’s made this amazing discovery that could very well change most everything we know about human/hominid anthropology and evolution, yet she is unwilling to allow her scientific peers to see the evidence and examine it for themselves?
That’s kind of the opposite of the way science is supposed to work, Dr. Ketchum. You would think that a supposedly serious researcher would know that – that is, assuming that she’s a serious scientific researcher and not just some kind of glory-seeking pseudoscientific crypto-hack. When making such an extraordinary claim, not allowing your scientific peers to examine your evidence is tantamount to saying “I’m right because *poof* magic!” In other words, it is not convincing at all, and it speaks to your credibility being somewhat minimal.
Last, but certainly not least, there is a very well-worded criticism by Ben Radford about how one is, exactly, to know that the DNA sequenced is actually that of a previously uncataloged Bigfoot-ish creature (a question which I had in mind when first hearing the claim):
… How did the team definitively determine that the samples were from a Bigfoot? Did they take a blood or saliva sample from a living Bigfoot? If so, how did they get that close, and why didn’t they simply capture it or photograph it? If the samples were found in the wild, how do they know it wasn’t left by another animal — or possibly even a hunter, hiker or camper who left human genetic material?
Previous alleged Bigfoot samples subjected to DNA analysis have been deemed “unknown” or “unidentified.” However, “unknown” or “unidentified” results do not mean “Bigfoot.” There are many reasons why a DNA sample might come back unknown, including that it was contaminated or too degraded by environmental conditions. Or it could simply mean that the animal it came from was not among the reference samples that the laboratory used for comparison. There is no reference sample of Bigfoot DNA to compare it with, so by definition, there cannot be a conclusive match. …
Of course, I suppose the answers to these and similar questions will have to go unanswered because we expect Dr. Ketchum to act like a real scientist and share her samples, data, research, and methodology for actual peer review and analysis. Hah – silly us!
Posted in cryptozoology | Tagged: Abominable Snowman, animals, anthropology, ape, Ben Radford, Benjamin Radform, Bigfoot, biology, biped, creature, cryptid, crypto, cryptozoology, DNA, DNA Diagnostics, evolution, genes, genetics, genome, human, Ketchum, Melba S. Ketchum, prehistoric, research, Sasquatch, sequence, Yeti, zoology | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 26, 2012
I have posted before on the emergence of a more secular demographic within the United States and what appears to be a concurrent decline in religious fundamentalism. However, I listened to a recent Point of Inquiry podcast which got me to look at the question in a different manner, and there appears to be much more work advancing a secular worldview to be done. I especially agree with the idea that atheists should be attempting to find common ground with moderate religious believers and building broader political coalitions, as opposed to alienating those believers simply because we have differences on belief(s) in God. I encourage you to give it a listen…
November 12, 2012
Host: Chris Mooney
On this show, we often debate the state of American secularism—covering topics like the rise of the so-called “nones,” or the unending battle to rescue the country from the pernicious influence of Christian right.
Our guest this week, Jacques Berlinerblau, has a provocative thesis about all this. He says that American secularism has clearly and distinctly lost major ground. And to recover from that loss, well… he’s got some suggestions that might not go down well—but it’s important to hear them.
Even if, you know, you’re not quite ready for a political allegiance with religious moderates.
Jacques Berlinerblau is author of the new book How to be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom. He’s an associate professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, where he directs the Program for Jewish Civilization.
Posted in politics, religion, skeptical community | Tagged: agnostic, atheism, atheist, belief, conservative, demographics, evangelical, fundamentalism, fundamentalist, God, How to be Secular, Jacques Berlinerblau, moderate, no-religious, non-religious, none, Pew Poll, Pew Research Center, podcast, Point of Inquiry, poll, Protestant, religion, religious, religious right, research, right, right wing, secular, secularism, survey, unaffiliated, white | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2012
In a recent post, I outlined how secular Americans are starting to make inroads into the political process, partly due to the rise of a non-religious demographic in the United States. On a related note, I find it worth pointing out the fact that the power and influence of the socially and religiously conservative movement known as the “religious right” seems to be on the decline. Evidence for this can be found by looking at the results of the 2012 elections. The following article from The Atlantic magazine goes into more detail; I shall share my thoughts on a few excerpts…
… “I think this [election] was an evangelical disaster,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told NPR. He’s right, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The late Falwell’s Liberty University gave former Gov. Mitt Romney its keynote spot at its 2012 commencement and backed off previous language calling Mormonism a “cult.” Billy Graham uncharacteristically threw his support behind the Republican candidate, and his evangelistic association bought full-page newspaper ads all but endorsing Romney. Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition spent tens of millions in battleground states to get out the religious vote.
As a result, 79 percent of white evangelicals voted for Romney on Tuesday. That’s the same percentage that Bush received in 2004, and more than Sen. John McCain received in 2008. The evangelical vote was 27 percent of the overall electorate — the highest it’s ever been for an election.
Their support wasn’t enough. Not only did President Obama win soundly, but four states voted to allow same-sex marriage. …
So why is it that the religiously conservative vote didn’t win out? Here are some reasons:
… First, the size of the evangelicals’ base is a limitation. While white evangelicals comprised a quarter of the electorate, other religious groups that lean Democratic have grown substantially. Hispanic-American Catholics, African-American Protestants, and Jewish-Americans voted Democratic in overwhelming numbers. Additionally, the “nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation — are now the fastest growing “religious” group, comprising one-fifth of the population and a third of adults under 30. Seven out of 10 “nones” voted for Obama.
Second, evangelicals’ influence is waning. Conservative Christian ideas are failing to shape the broader culture. More than 3,500 churches close their doors every year, and while Americans are still overwhelmingly spiritual, the institutional church no longer holds the sway over their lives it once did. The sweeping impact of globalization and the digital age has marginalized the church and its leaders. …
… Third, evangelical leadership is wanting. A quarter-century ago, Christian mobilization efforts were rising, Christian advocacy groups were sprouting, and charismatic Christian leaders were popping up in every corner of the country. This is no longer the case.
Politically influential pastors like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have died, James Dobson retired, and Pat Robertson has been relegated to the fringes of his own community. By any reckoning, few charismatic figures are able or willing to fill these voids.
The leadership vacuum became painfully obvious during the Republican primaries, when 150 “high-powered” evangelical leaders, including Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer, met behind closed doors in Texas to determine which candidate should receive their endorsement. They chose Rick Santorum, but in the South Carolina primaries a week later, Newt Gingrich and Romney split two-thirds of the state’s evangelical vote.
Additionally, organizations like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition are either defunct or defunded, while Focus on the Family has made clear its intention to move in a less political direction. The number and influence of evangelical organizations shaping the public square is greatly diminished. …
Will the religious right end up dying off? I’m not sure, but whether or not you view this as a good thing (personally, I see it as a positive development that fundamentalist religion is having less influence on our modern society), I think it is safe to say that things are changing in the United States.
Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: 2012, agnostic, atheism, atheist, belief, conservative, demographics, election, evangelical, federal, God, no-religious, non-religious, non-theist, none, nontheist, politics, poll, Protestant, religion, religious, religious right, research, right, right wing, secular, secularism, survey, unaffiliated, United States, US, USA, white | 3 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 12, 2012
All I can say is: wow. I knew the ranks of the non-religious and religiously-unaffiliated in the United States was on the rise, but I didn’t know it would be taking off like this so soon. According to a recent Pew Research Poll, the number of Americans self-identifying as part of the so-called “nones” is now at nearly 20%!
The summary from the Pew Report is quite telling:
The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 –are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%). …
This chart, from the Pew Report, says it all I think:
Note the one key feature of this chart: the fact that the core of the religious right in America, white Protestant evangelicals (19%), is now actually outnumbered by the decidedly secular “nones” (19.6%)!
And further, the trends are also looking very positive for the “nones”: as the chart above shows, they are easily the fastest growing religious (or non-religious) demographic in the U.S.A.
I must say, the future is looking brighter
Posted in religion | Tagged: agnostic, atheism, atheist, belief, conservative, demographics, evangelical, God, no-religious, non-religious, none, Pew Poll, Pew Research Center, poll, Protestant, religion, religious, religious right, research, right, right wing, secular, secularism, survey, unaffiliated, white | 5 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 3, 2012
Some of you might be aware that in addition to all the work I do regarding skepticism and education, I am also proud to declare that I’m on the board of the Women Thinking Free Foundation… except that the WTFF no longer exists. But that’s just because it’s now even MORE awesome, and it has been renamed to Women Thinking, Inc.
We’ve been really busy behind the scenes with our rebranding and some amazing stuff we’ve been working on for the last year-and-a-half regarding vaccine survey research in conjunction with the James Randi Educational Foundation. This research is REALLY a big deal, and there’s no doubt you’ll be hearing all about it in the weeks and months to come – stay tuned for that.
But rather than tease you anymore, I’ll refer you to this post over at Skepchick where our fearless mofo leader, Elyse Anders, has dished out all the info on our big switchover. Check it out…
When we started this organization back in 2010, we never dreamed that we’d be presenting ourselves far outside of the skeptical movement. Our goal was always to bring more women into organized skepticism, if not just to encourage women to think more critically. The Women Thinking Free, or WTF, was a name that said that we were free thinking women who didn’t take ourselves too seriously and that we had a sense of humor in our mission. As an organization with roots deep in the Skepchick community, I felt that the WTF was a name that expressed a lot of my persona, and reflected the tone of the community.
But the Women Thinking Free is growing. And we’re growing up. We’re doing more work on a national level and putting ourselves out to organizations who are less or maybe totally un-familiar with skepticism and the skeptical community. We do great work, and we intend to keep on doing that great work. And while I loathe to take myself seriously, it is time to take my organization seriously. We have a hardworking core of board members and volunteers who work tirelessly, and they deserve to be taken seriously. And we need to tell those who don’t know us that we are an organization worth investing in and believing in. We’re not a dopey bunch of girls who don’t know what WTF means… and we’re not a group who doesn’t care how your organization will look being affiliated with “WTF”.
So we’re changing our name.
We’re still a fun group. We still don’t take ourselves too seriously. The only thing that’s changed is that we’ve realized we’ve created something good enough to present in a way that won’t be dismissed out of hand… and without having to argue over adverbs.
We are now Women Thinking, inc. See? Not a lot has changed. Just a couple of words. We’re still women. We’re still thinking. We’re just a little classier.
We also still need your help in raising funds to do all the great stuff we have planned over the next year.
Oh yeah, and one last thing… we still have our groovy Hug Me I’m Vaccinated! campaign where we promote vaccination and help to run free vaccine clinics, but our mascot is no longer a cute n’ cuddly teddy bear. Our new mascot is a cute n’ cuddly sloth, because sloths love to hug and hang on… but only if you’re vaccinated
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: clinic, donate, Elyse Anders, hug, Hug Me, Hug Me I'm Vaccinated, Jame Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, mascot, research, Skepchick, sloth, survey, vaccination, vaccines, Women Thinking, Women Thinking Free, Women Thinking Free Foundation, WT Inc, WTFF, WTI, WTInc | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 22, 2012
As we ramp up for yet another frenzied political season where, no doubt, there will be much drama and mudslinging, I’d like to leave you all with this one thought: for the most part, political polls and pollsters are bullshit.
This article does a good job explaining why…
There are many ways to keep score on whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney has better odds of winning the general election, which is almost exactly six months away. Here at The Signal, we are fervent evangelists of the political prediction markets, where people place real money on the line to bet on the winner. These markets proved to be more prescient than polls in the Republican primary.
Many journalists prefer to stick to reporting on raw daily polls. While these surveys offer valuable information, it is dangerous to read too much into the daily fluctuations, especially this far in advance. Currently, Rasmussen has Romney leading Obama 49 to 44, while Rueters/Ipsos has Obama leading Romney 49 to 42. This disagreement is due to several common sources of error that occur on any poll. Averaging several polls to get an aggregate figure, as RealClearPolitics does, helps ameliorate these errors.
Upcoming work by Bob Erikson of Columbia and Chris Wlezien of Temple, recently presented at the Midwest Political Science Association conference, demonstrates a second problem with following the daily polls too closely. The researchers looked through past presidential elections, aggregated the national polls, and created the most effective forecast based on that data. They found that, even when properly aggregated and averaged, national polls do not have predictive power at this point in the cycle. … [emphasis added]
You can read the entire article to get the gist of how untrustworthy most politically-oriented polls can be, but I think it is said even better by skeptical magicians Penn & Teller
Posted in politics | Tagged: 2012, barack obama, Bullshit, congress, Democrat, election, Frank Luntz, GOP, Luntz, manipulation, markets, Mitt Romney, Obama, Penn, politics, polls, pollsters, prediction, prediction market, president, presidential, Republican, research, Romney, surveys, Tea Party, Teller, United States | Leave a Comment »