The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘primary’

Stephen Colbert PWNs Don McLeroy, Creationist Crank from Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2012

If you know who Don McLeroy is (and if you don’t, read up on him here), then you know he is quite notorious for being reality-challenged.  In what I can only describe as a stroke of comedic genius, Stephen Colbert interviews McLeroy on the Colbert Report.  Enjoy 🙂

Posted in creationism, education, humor, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Creationists Whining About “Censorship”

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 1, 2011

You may have already seen it: the video of would-be Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann commenting that not teaching creationism (or, “intelligent design”, as she calls it) in public school science classes is “government censorship.”  Check it out…

 

Wow, there are so many things wrong with what she’s saying, it’s hard to know where to begin.  While these arguments from creationists are nothing new, I’ll just hit some of the high points:

1. The “Teach All Views” Argument: I think this one bugs me more than any others, because it is a disingenuous attempt to play off the American sense of fairness.  “Just teach all the theories” says Bachmann, but she makes a very interesting omission – what she omits in her argument is that creationists don’t actually want “all ideas on the table” as she states.  What they really want is to insert their very narrow religious ideology (typically, the view of young-Earth creationism) into public school science classes.

If Bachmann and her ilk were really genuine in their argument, then they would have no problem with “equal time” for a large variety of creationist ideas: old-Earth creationism, day-age creationism, gap creationism, flat Earth creationism, geocentrism, Islamic creationism, various Native-American creation myths, Scientology, and even Raelianism.  I especially like proposing “equal time” for Raelianism under Bachmann’s plan, because the Raelians are an atheistic UFO-cult which believes that humans were not created by God but aliens.  You have to wonder how willing Bachmann and her pals would be to give “equal time” to the Raelians!

So, I say to Bachmann: go for it, but if you really mean “teach all views” then be prepared to open the door to every kind of creationist idea out there.  And perhaps after all views have been equally represented, the science teachers in U.S. public schools just might have a couple of weeks at the end of the school year to teach actual science.  Who cares if our students will be effectively scientifically illiterate and we start to have massive brain-drain as compared to China and India?  At least we can all feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing that we “taught all views”.  Gee whiz, thanks Ms. Bachmann!!!

The logical conclusion of applying the creationist idea of “teaching all views”…

2. The Whiny “Censorship” Argument: here again we have another facepalm moment.  These creationists actually believe, or they try to make us believe, that just because the U.S. government doesn’t give their particular set of religious beliefs some kind of priviledged status in public schools that it means they are being “censored.”  Purre rubbish, plain and simple.  For one thing, there is this little thing in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which is called the separation of church and state.  It basically means, in this particular context, that the public schools don’t get into the business of favoring one particular religion over another – that is, the government remains neutral on the question of the “correctness” of various religious beliefs in the public school classroom.

And that means specifically not giving any previledged status to a particular religious view in schools.  So while it would be appropriate to have a class on, say, comparative religion where the topic of creationism is studied, it wouldn’t be appropriate to insert those views into a science class since that crosses the boundary between science and religion.  Religious ideas are taught in religion class, and science is taught in science class!

3. “Scientists don’t agree on the origins of life”: while this is technically true, because the subject of abiogenesis (the study of life’s origins) is a subject of much discussion in the scientific community, Bachmann plays fast and loose with the facts by erroneously equating abiogenesis with the well understood and accepted theory of evolution.  These are not the same thing, and it is a common tactic of creationists to equate the two in an effort to give the sense that the scientific community doesn’t support evolution.  That’s just plain wrong, because – as these statistics point out – evolution is well-established in the scientific community.

4. Evolution is “just a theory”: this is another tried and true argument used by creationists to denegrate evolution.  They try to make it sound like a “theory” in scientific terms is equivalent to a hunch or a guess, but this is incorrect.  In science, a theory is a well-established and tested set of ideas that ties together a large set of observations and evidence into a coherent explanatory framework.  An analogy in physics would be to talk about the theory of gravity – would Bachmann or her creationist ilk try to seriously argue that gravity is “just a theory”?

If so, I invite her and anyone who agrees with her to take a dive off the nearest tall building without a parachute 🙂

I jest, of course, but in my jest there is a note of seriousness: if these creationists truly believe that evolution is “just a theory” (that is, a guess) then why do so many of them continue to use modern vaccines and antibiotics which are made as a direct result of the application of evolutionary theory?  If we didn’t understand evolution, we simply wouldn’t have those medicines.  So to avoid being labeled as hypocrites, I think creationists need to at least acknowledge that evolution is more than just a simple guess.

But I won’t hold my breath.  One thing’s for sure: creationists certainly are persistent, and as long as they’re up to their shenanigans we have to be equally vigilant.

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Medical Professors to Bachmann: “Put Up or Shut Up” on Vaccine Claims

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 15, 2011

Well, it seems that GOP/Tea Party presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann’s recent anti-vaccine comments at Monday night’s Republican debate have gotten her into some pretty hot water.  Good!  Someone who is that out to lunch on such a core issue of science, medicine, and public health needs to be seriously criticized and derided in the public square, because they certainly have no place in being anywhere near holding public office, in my opinion.

Message to Michelle Bachmann…

One of the most wonderful bits of blowback against Bachmann was in reference to a truly outlandish claim she made in a Fox News interview:

“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate,” Bachmann said. “She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences.” [emphasis added]

That stupid claim was just too much for some bioethicists who have expressed their skepticism by quite literally putting their money where their mouths are:

Professors offer more than $10,000 for proof that Bachmann’s story about HPV is true

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s story about a woman who claimed that her daughter suffered “mental retardation” after receiving a vaccine against HPV could fetch the woman’s family thousands of dollars. But the family can only collect if Bachmann or the unnamed woman can prove the story is true.

Two bioethics professors have offered to pay more than $10,000 for medical records that prove the anecdote Bachmann told after Monday night’s Republican presidential debate is true, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Folks, this is precisely the kind of thing which needs to be done when someone who is as high profile as Bachmann (a potential presidential contender, for frak’s sake!) makes as stupid and dangerous a claim as she made.  The mere fact that she made this dubious claim to begin with is bad enough, because it will undoubtedly scare already nervous parents into not getting their kids vaccinated.  I would love to see more skeptical activism of this kind in the future – perhaps it is the start of a trend? 🙂

While I’m at it, I should also report about how Bachmann herself is publicly responding to the whole fracas.  Well, at least I’d like to report on what she has to say, but apparently her campaign is going mum on the issue.  Perhaps that’s for the best – I think it would be preferable if Michelle Bachmann just kept her mouth shut for good.

Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Michelle Bachmann Spews Anti-Vaccine Nonsense on the Presidential Campaign Trail

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 14, 2011

Up until this point, I haven’t made any public comments on the 2012 United States presidential race, but I can no longer hold my tongue (or, in this case, fingers).  I have been disturbed about a number of what I would call anti-scientific comments from many of the Republican candidates on the issues of evolutionary and climate science, which serve to only perpetuate an ignorance of and disdain for science in this country.  These days it seems like standard-operating-procedure for Republican candidates to deny evolution and global warming (with notable exceptions such as Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman) in an effort to win over more conservative voters,  but what happened in the most recent Republican debate this past Monday night is absolutely deplorable.  That’s because now some of these candidates are openly expressing denial of vaccines!

Case in point, at Monday night’s GOP debate there was an exchange between candidates Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann on the issue of Perry’s executive order (he’s the governor of Texas) to add the HPV vaccine to the vaccine schedule for 11-12 year-old girls as a way of protecting them from cervical cancer later in life.  Almost immediately, Bachmann attacked Perry using standard anti-vaccination talking points with Rick Santorum throwing in some additional anti-vaccine comments for good measure.  Here’s the exchange…

Video courtesy of Real Clear Politics

It gets worse.  According to this report, Michelle Bachmann doubled down on her dangerous stupidity in a post-debate interview with Fox News and the next day on the Today Show with these comments:

“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate,” Bachmann said. “She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences.” [emphasis added]

Holy… shit.  Now we have a potentially serious presidential candidate who is publicly stating that vaccines could cause mental retardation (as if it wasn’t bad enough with Jenny McCarthy claiming vaccines cause autism, now mental retardation is on the table, too!)  This is going to scare the hell out of a lot of parents all over the country, and vaccination rates will decline as a result.

Personally, I’m no fan of Rick Perry, but he at least had the presence of mind to see the wisdom of adding the HPV vaccine to the vaccination schedule, and he’s not denying the benefit of vaccines.  Yet here we have, in a response motivated by what I feel to be purely cynical political reasons, other candidates feeding into the dangerous and deadly anti-vaccination meme that vaccines make kids sick (as opposed to the other way around).  Michelle Bachmann has, in one bold stroke, given a huge national platform to the anti-vaccination movement which could very easily result in a lot of unnecessary illnesses and deaths.

What’s worse, because of her influence among the Tea Party wing of the Republican party, Bachmann’s comments will cause more GOP candidates to adopt positions on these issues cloaked in anti-vaccine language (just note in the video above how quickly Rick Santorum jumped on her coat-tails!)

Folks, this is dangerous business.  Michelle Bachmann may think she’s just fishing for votes, but what she’s actually doing is much more serious than that: the end result of her words and actions will be that people who listen to her will either die themselves or their loved ones will die.

And all of this is in the name of jumping on the “smaller government” anti-science bandwagon which is all the rage these days in some conservative circles.  Fortunately, not all Republicans and conservatives are this anti-scientific and stupid in their thinking, and if you count yourselves among these scientifically-literate conservatives, then you need to speak up.  Take some time to contact the Bachmann campaign (and perhaps the Santorum campaign as well) to let them know just how irresponsible and dangerous these statements are from the debate and subsequent interviews.  At the same time, take a few moments to contact Rick Perry’s campaign and urge him to stay strong in his pro-vaccine stance – supporting candidates when they take a positive position on a science issue is just as important as playing Whack-A-Mole with the idiots.

Do what you can to speak up within your particular political circles against this lunacy, because – at the end of the day – diseases such as influenza, whooping cough, measles, and cervical cancer don’t give a damn who you vote for, but they could kill you or someone you love if you listen to cynical, politically-conniving morons like Michelle Bachmann.

For more information on this issue, I highly recommend the following skeptical perspectives:

1. My skeptical colleague, Jamie Bernstein, has an excellent guest post over at Skepchick:

Cervical Cancer is my Cup of Tea: guest post by Jamie Bernstein

2. And the one-and-only Rebecca Watson gives her thoughts in a deliciously sarcastic Youtube video:

Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Would-Be Governor of Alabama Disses Evolution

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 18, 2010

Oh… my… FSM… I thought that I’d seen a lot of really stupid political ads (from all sides of the political spectrum), but this is one of the worst: a Republican candidate for governor of Alabama, Bradley Byrne, is being bashed for (gasp!) actually having once said that we should teach science (specifically, evolution) in science classrooms.  In addition, he apparently had the audacity to state that perhaps not every part of the Bible is “literally” true as many fundamentalists claim – at least, “literally” true in their own interpretation.  Here’s the ad…

As bad as that is, what’s worse is the fact that Byrne (in an obvious attempt to cater to the more extreme elements who have hijacked the GOP) is actively denouncing any of his previous advocacy for teaching evolution or questioning fundamentalist’s interpretations of the Bible.  His campaign released this statement on the matter…

As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God. As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school textbooks. Those who attack me have distorted, twisted and misrepresented my comments and are spewing utter lies to the people of this state.

Wow… that deserves one of these…

What’s really sad here isn’t so much the bent towards fundamentalist Christianity (it is, after all, the Deep South in the U.S.).  Rather it is the blatant & almost gleeful public bashing of science in which these goons are engaging, for no other reason than to cater to the lowest common denominator in their quest for political power.  Hell, they’re downright proud of their ignorance!

Whether or not Byrne actually believes one way or the other is irrelevant to me… I’d just like to see more politicians stand up for science vs. superstition.  I have to wonder where all the moderate Republicans are on this issue?  Are they really going to continue to allow these American Taliban to hijack their once reasonable party?

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Texas Voters Give Creationist Don McLeroy the Big Texas Boot

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 12, 2010

It seems that our friend on the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy – who is infamous for his repeated attempts to water down the teaching of evolution in particular & science in general in Texas schools, has finally gotten his come-uppance… he has lost his seat on the Texas BoEd in the Republican primary.  The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has a good breakdown of what happened (below), but I think the long story short of it is that people in Texas are fed up with the creationists attempting to spread their extreme & divisive ideology through the public schools… at least, I hope that’s the case.

Here’s the take down by the NCSE…

In the March 2, 2010, primary election, avowed young-earth creationist Don McLeroy narrowly lost his bid to be the Republican candidate for the District 9 seat on the Texas state board of education. As the Dallas Morning News (March 3, 2010) reported, “The fiercely contested race pitted McLeroy, a dentist from College Station and member of the board’s social conservative bloc, against [Thomas] Ratliff, a legislative consultant and son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff,” who is viewed as likely to side with the moderates on the board. There is no Democratic candidate for the seat, so Ratliff is expected to be elected in November 2010.

Originally elected to the board in 1998, McLeroy was persistently determined to undermine the treatment of evolution in Texas’s public schools. During the debate over biology textbook adoption in 2003, he was one of the four members of the board who misused the state science standards to oppose adopting the eleven textbooks under consideration. His attacks on science education — including his endorsement of a book that described parents who want their children to learn about evolution as “monsters” — were in part responsible for the state senate’s refusal to confirm him as chair of the board in May 2009, as NCSE previously reported.

McLeroy’s assault on evolution came to a head during a meeting of the board in March 2009 when he declaimed, in a now notorious moment, “Somebody’s got to stand up to experts!” (Video is available on NCSE’s YouTube channel.) Unfortunately, a majority of the board did so, voting to amend the Texas state science standards to add a requirement that students examine “all sides of scientific evidence” and to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age of the universe.

The board’s revisions to the standards were widely deplored, with the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology describing it as “a step backward” and the Austin American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) editorially complaining, “Don McLeroy, Dunbar and others have turned the education board into a national joke. But when it comes to teaching Texas children, what they have done is not funny.” But McLeroy was unabashed. “Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution,” he told the Washington Monthly (January/February 2010), adding, “Evolution is hooey.”

Well, Don McLeroy may think that “evolution is hooey” but the voters of Texas have spoken, and McLeroy is history 🙂

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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