Rationally speaking, is a presentation of New York City skeptics dedicated to promoting critical thinking, skeptical inquiry and science education. For more information, please visit us at NYC Skeptic's Doug. Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host, Masimo, and with me, as always, is my co-host Adjudicative. Julia, what are we going to talk about today?
Today, we have a very special guest with us in studio. Dr. Eugenie Scott is the executive director of the National Center for Science Education. She also sits on the board of advisers for the New York City Skeptics. She's written extensively on the evolution and creationism controversy and is the past president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Dr. Scott is the 2010 recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal, and she's the author of Evolution versus Creationism and the co-editor with Glenn Branch of Not in Our Classrooms Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools.
She's here in town to give a lecture for New York City skeptics. So we took the opportunity to bring her into our studio to talk about denialism of climate change and evolution, and also to get a sneak preview into an exciting new initiative that the National Center for Science Education is going to be soon launching, which may be a game changer.
Welcome. Thank you.
And I can add to that list of nice things you said about me that I'm your first returning speaker.
That's right. That's that's an honor. Thank you to the National Academy of Sciences that any day they can walk them back. So tell us about it.
What what what's this new initiative that the they is starting?
About five years ago, four or five years ago, we began noticing that there were these pieces of legislation cropping up around the country that bundled together evolution and global warming and a few other, you know, religious right enthusiasms as controversial issues. The teachers were supposed to teach all views of or teach both sides or some similar kind of euphemism.
And how has that legislation fared?
Well, the good news is that most of it is managed to be killed off, not of its own accord.
Mind you, it's because good people wrote letters to their representatives or went down and testified to the school board or those legislative meetings and talked to their representatives and told them why this was really bad science, because, you know, unfortunately, let's give the students all the answers really taps into some very strong American values of fairness and free speech.
And so it's very, very easy, unless you really kind of think it through to think that these this would be a good idea.
So good people, concerned people went down and managed to kill these bills. And these are people that we work with and without which we would not be successful.
We are not successful. They're successful. And so we began kind of paying more attention to climate change. And actually, the the thing that got this initiative going was about I guess it's about a year and a half ago now.
Our good friend, Joel Levin, who is the co-author with Ken Miller of a very well selling high school biology textbook, Miller and Levine called me up and said he's been giving talks and meeting with teachers around the country, as he usually does, telling them how to use the book and so forth, and workshops in various districts where they've adapted the book.
And he always ends up his his discussions with them saying, well, you know, what do you have problems with? Well, they always have problems with evolution. Right.
But he says I'm hearing more and more now that teachers are getting hammered for global warming, that they'll start talking about the ecology section of the book or of an environmental science class or something.
And somebody will show up on the door or some kid will raise his hand and say, oh, I heard that global warming is a big hoax. And so what do we do about global warming?
So Joe said we need a climate NCSA we need to have an organization that will help teachers deal with these kinds of political pressures associated with teaching climate change and global warming, just like you guys help teachers with problems and political pressures about teaching evolution. He said, here, you guys have to take this on or we need to reinvent you somewhere. So, you know, being a studious lot, we thought, well, let's let's think about this, because this is a big step.
And the first thing we did is we met with we started talking with other associations saying, you know, have you heard anything about this? The science associations, the science education organizations. Have you heard about.
Education people? Yeah, we've heard about this. Are you doing anything to help these teachers? Is there a climate NCSA equivalent?
No, nobody is doing this. You have to do this. And so the science association said, yeah, this is really necessary. You guys should take it on. The Education Association said, yeah, this is really important. You guys should take it on. So you guys got volunteered.
We kind of got volunteered. Well, we had one more one more possibility. Mean no sense in reinventing the wheel.
Right. All right. If somebody else is already doing this, you know, we don't have to take it on, my colleague Josh Rosenow went to the environmental organizations and he talked to National Defense Fund and the Sierra Club and a whole bunch of the other big outfits and said, have you heard anything about this? They haven't exactly.
But they had a feeling that it probably was or would be a problem. No, they don't have any skills. No, they don't do it. That I mean, in one sense, they would be better candidates for doing something like this than these science associations do because they're already more politically oriented. And we're talking politics. You know, this is really what what you how you have to look at this. Well, so we decided, OK, no sense in inventing a climate in CSI.
We'll just add this to our portfolio.
So that's interesting the way you just put it.
First of all, my first thought when you were being to tell the story as well, the NCIC is the National Center for Science Education, not for discussion about evolution, although you know what the Discovery Institute calls us in there and their own snide fashion police, the National Center for Selling Evolution.
And, well, the National Center is right for science education.
And we know we when the organization was founded back in the early 80s, it was given that name by the board of directors because they felt that, you know, scientists and teachers working together was a really, really strong coalition. And we could do a lot to improve science education once we take care of this creationist issue.
Right. And later.
Right, of course. I mean, if if in any way one would consider modifying the name would be the National Center for Socially Controversial Science.
Yeah, but it's interesting also, you know, you mentioned well, what about environmental organizations? Actually, my thought would have been that, no, those are not the most appropriate places, because places like the Sierra Club, for instance, they tend to be very much on the political activism part and certainly but they don't do a lot of science. They don't really deal with the science. They takes the science for granted. That's right. And goal and political activism.
On the other hand, as I'm sure we'll explore further in the rest of these these areas, that there are quite a lot of similarities between climate change denial and evolution, denial and a couple of other kinds of denial that I can think of. So in reality, you're not you're not likely to have to reinvent yourself. You can just use most of the same tools pretty much in these just applying them to different controversy, right?
Exactly. And we we thought about this for months and we wrote up staff wrote up a memo for the board to consider and discussed it with the board because this is you know, this is going to require new funding and.
Oh, yeah, not not not to put too fine a point on it. We're going to lose some members.
Oh, yeah. And so, you know, we we have to kind of consider the big picture here before we spread ourselves too thin. But especially we're going to have to add staff because we have lots of expertise about the science of evolution and about science education.
But we don't have anybody where we have a geologist who, you know, is in a related field.
But Steve doesn't claim to be an expert in climate science. That's not his kind of geology.
And so we definitely will have to bring in a climate scientist to hopefully more than one depending on funding.
Do you have a sense of out of the set of people who are supportive of the National Center for Science Education's mission?
What percentage of them would actually take umbrage at the idea of you guys actually actively promoting climate change science?
We don't, although we're we're starting to kind of feel out the situation. I've given a couple of talks and comparing the two kinds of contrarianism, if you will, of evolution and climate science. And we've been able to get some videotapes and they're posted on NCIS YouTube site. And so when our communications director, Robert Lenn, looks over those comments, he's noticing about, you know, about 10 percent are, you know, oh, well, why don't you just stick to evolution now?
Everybody knows climate science is now. We don't know how many of those people are actually members because that's right.
And they also tend to be a lot more vocal if are you ever.
That is a cautionary tale, however, that you just reminded me of that took place a few months ago when, you know, I wrote a regular column for Skeptical Inquirer and just happened that at some point I published a column on climate change entirely without knowing that Ken Fraser, the editor of Skeptical Inquirer, was actually preparing a whole issue on climate change. So he said, you know, why don't we publish the column in the same issue? And I said, it's great.
That generated a huge controversy among the skeptical Inquirer readers, several of whom wrote nasty letters, and several of them quit the subscription to the Journal. And then, you know, I don't have a. I was involved with this because can copied for a number of weeks actually did the major correspondence that he was getting to all of the contributors to the special issue. So I had a feeling for what the arguments were, for what how people were reacting.
I don't I couldn't tell you the percentages. And certainly, as you say, even percentages done, you know, the counting the numbers of people that react doesn't really tell you much because it doesn't it's not a statistical representative sample of the entire readership of Skeptical Inquirer. Nonetheless, I was stunned by the vehemence of the reaction by how strong it is. You know, these these are supposed to be skeptics. These are people who are.
But but but let's get into that.
Don't the there are there are anti evolutionists and there are anti global warming tests, if you will. I guess we're all against global warming.
But, you know, but people who are not you were talking about I don't need to clarify this.
There's a there's almost a complete separation in the ideological motivation for these two antaeus, if you're right, for the evolutionists, the anti evolutionists are almost entirely motivated by religious ideology in some some way that many, many ways that evolution conflicts with their their faith.
The anti global warming people are primarily motivated by politics and economics, different ideologies.
So there is a sliver of of anti global warming ism that's motivated by religion. But it's that in specifically, it's the idea of God's providence will protect us against anything bad happening. So global warming we don't need to worry about this is silly.
It's a pretty universal objection you could use to. Yes. Protest everything, anything. Yeah.
Sorry about that would be not an objection to the notion of change, would just be an objection to the notion of doing something about it or that it's that it's going to be that important.
I mean, I've got some I've looked on the I see the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis Web pages, and they do have their position on global warming.
And they don't think it's you know, they they don't they don't. For the most part, they're they don't take it seriously. It was much harder before the flood or whatever.
But as we know, the you know, the I think we can go on about that for for creation. Science is so much fun.
But is this there's the slight there's this slight religious foundation for some of the anti global warming, but the vast majority of it is free market economics and anti big government politics.
And there's an awful lot of people in the sceptics movement who are libertarians, who embrace both of those views. And that I think and of course, within CSC, we have a certain overlap in our membership with skeptics. Obviously, many NCC members are not formally members of the skeptic organizations, but there's an overlap and I think that's where the objection is going to come.
Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. But to comment. So the first one is what you're saying, this distinction you're drawing in terms of what what ideological problem there is in the two camps, again, is reflected in my experience with skeptical inquiry. You know, no reader, as far as I can tell. A skeptical inquiry is a fundamentalist religious person who, you know, who buys the magazine for other than just, I don't know, usually toilet paper, possibly.
Possibly. So the readership there, it's clearly skeptics. It's clearly people that aren't involved in science and transport. And sure enough, all the objections about climate change, the climate change issue, we're certainly none of them where none of them were religious. I none individually. Yeah.
Now, about the skeptics, the connection between skeptics and and libertarian or certain kinds of similar position, that's very interesting. But, you know, again, to comments there, actually, which makes my total up to three.
We're not gonna we're not we're not going.
So the first thing is it doesn't seem to me rational, reasonable to conflate the science either in support or against certain notions, in this particular case, climate change with the particular type of solution that one might want to implement.
I mean, I could easily see a libertarian. In fact, I know some libertarians, you know, including some of my friends who would say, no, no, I accept the notion of climate change. Now let's discuss about what to do and what not to do about it. Right.
So that's first of all, the two are logically distinguished, the distinct kind of issues.
Maybe just to clarify for your listeners, because there's sort of a hierarchy of climate change contrarianism or denial.
There's there's the number one group says it's not happening. Number two group says, well, it's happening, but we're not responsible, it's not anthropogenic. The third group is yes, it's happening, yes, we're causing it, but we can't do anything about it or we shouldn't do anything about it.
And the third group is where all the policy differentials come. And that's where I think some of your libertarian friends might have different solutions to the problem. But there you know, there is that first one in two categories, right? Right. I have a couple of questions. First, the I've encountered some arguments to the effect of yes, the science suggests that this is happening. And, yes, it suggests that we're responsible.
But we don't have any sense that the the magnitude of the effect is going to be large enough to really be causing a problem that like the you know, to the extent that we can be confident in the climate change models, we can only really be confident about a very small effect.
So that my first question is whether you've encountered a lot of that and where they fit into your taxonomy. And then the second question is, have you noticed any change in the proportions of those groups over time?
We are just getting into climate change. And I am hardly an expert. I've been sort of kind of watching it out of the peripheral vision.
But I have sure until the last month or so, quite honestly, I haven't really started reading systematically in it.
So I can't give you any long term trends.
But I would say that your first group, you know, that the climate models are really not strong enough to to allow us to make any predictions as to how serious it would be. I'd say I'd kind of fall that into the first group.
You know, this is this is sort of a subset, if you will, a subsidiaries of the snotting.
As far as they're concerned, the confidence intervals include zero. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But yeah, it is it is interesting, the variation. And I'd suggest that if.
You were any of our listeners who are engaging in a conversation with somebody who said, well, I don't know about this climate change stuff, try to determine what category they're in first, because you can do a lot of talking past one another.
I noticed this, that happening on blogs and things that not that that is rare.
And they find out what exactly they're talking past each other.
At least you're talking instead of yelling obscenities. So that's already one step up from where you could be on the. We were talking about blogs. Right. Right. I want to go back.
I'm sorry. I'm not going to let the skeptic community off the hook, that is. No, no. Let's go back to that for a second. So two years ago, at a time when it was last 10, eight eight. Yes. You went to nine this year, right? Yes. So it was eight at any rate. So I give I gave a talk immediately following it and our talk we're not coordinating it at all. But it turned out that we sort of took this to size at the same time, the same coin, so filled talk was about how skeptics really need to talk about each other and to the community at large using the appropriate tone and a reasonable approach to things.
And not just, you know, stuck with sarcasm and yelling and all that sort of stuff.
My thought was and then he mentioned something. And then I basically elaborated on the fact people asked us afterwards if we were sort of communicating, said, no, no, no, we're just independent thinking, convergent evolution. My thought was actually about specifically about taking to task skeptics who talk about science that they clearly do not understand. And I was trying to make a broader a broader point about which I like your opinion, actually.
But you notice that I just did not make a comment on something I don't understand.
So let me ask you I'll ask the question a second, but to give you the background, basically I was taking on, you know, people like Michael Shermer, who was in the audience, Penn and Teller, who are big, their figures now, they have opinions, their opinions and their big atom, of course, in general and himself, who at the time had just come out with this statement about the fact that he was skeptical of climate change.
Now, the interesting thing, of course, is that I let off the hook only Shermer, because he actually did change his mind publicly.
And so he was in the back of the audience. And you're glowing about you was the only one getting credit for that.
Was that right now, obviously, I have the highest opinion in general of all of those people that I just mentioned. But what I was the point I was trying to make is that the role of the skeptic community, as far as I can, as I see it, is not to do science or pronouncements on science. It is it is two things. And those two things are quite distinct. One is to help the public understanding of science where they are doing.
They are a conduit. They're a grassroots movement for public understanding of science. So they're not supposed to be doing pronouncements on the science, not because it's prohibited by law, but because they literally don't know what they're talking about.
And, you know, unless you are a climate change science climate scientist, you really or if you're not a physicist, don't talk about it as if you were an expert because you're not the other role of the skeptic community.
I thought I pointed out was, on the other hand, in the area where skeptics really do have expertise and that is, in fact the debunking of paranormal and similar kinds of phenomena, because there are people like Gene for independents and so on and so forth.
And even Shermer actually have technical know how that the scientists themselves don't have and are good at it and they're very good at it.
So that part, they really are the experts and they are on the on the front lines. That's what they should be doing, their actual investigations, the rest they really should be doing the second kind of thing, which is sort of more of a grassroots movement of science education.
So does that reflect sort of where the NTSB might be going?
That is exactly our position. We've been defending evolution in classrooms and trying to help the public understand evolution for many, many years now, decades where we're not researching evolution.
We don't take a position on whether birds are dinosaurs, although you'd have to arm wrestle keppen billion on that basis.
But the organization, we don't we don't take a position on an inflationary cosmology versus string theory. You know, we we don't it we go with the scientific consensus.
If there is one in the cases where we have we have a short list of things we do have. I mean, there's a lot of stuff in evolution. There's astronomy, geology and biology. So we can have a lot of things to talk about. But we basically go with the scientific consensus, living things that common ancestors, the universe is old, et cetera.
And we are our skill area, so to speak, is working at the grassroots to try to help communities support the teachers in teaching evolution to try to keep bad policies from being passed at the local level, the state level. Well, whatever and, you know, we do a lot of that kind of grassroots organizing. One of my former board members had once said that, you know, we run grassroots organizations from the top down, which isn't really true because, you know, the people on the ground do all the work.
We just I prefer the analogy that we hand out the fire extinguishers and they that, you know, but we don't take a position on science. We go with a consensus. And that's exactly what we're doing with climate change. We are going the consensus of science and general national academy, etc. Many organizations that consensus of, particularly the scientists who are involved in climate change research is enormously strong, that it's getting warmer. People have a lot to do with it.
Anthropogenic climate change is very important. Now, the next step is that sort of third category here. Can you do anything about it? What should you do about it?
That's a policy issue. We have no expertise in policy. We're leaving the policy part out policy and technology.
I guess if yeah, part of it hinges on how much people think it's it's feasible to address this issue with the new technology.
Yeah. And yeah. You like. Right. Like geo geo engineering, geo engineering, things like. Yeah, we don't deal with it. That's a policy issue.
So teachers should be and of course our our interests are narrower than those of the skeptics organizations because we are focused on science education.
We are the National Center for Science Education and the work that we're trying to help K-12 teachers.
Actually, it turns out to be K 16 teachers because, you know, this is occurs at especially the community college level. You know, we're educators and particularly at K-12.
The responsibility of the K-12 teacher is very different from that of a university professor.
Their job is to present the consensus. Right. They and they need support in doing that. And that's what we do. So what your approach here be the same as your approach in in supporting teachers, teaching evolution? Mm hmm.
We we with evolution and we will with climate science, we will provide guidance as to the science, again, reflecting the consensus view.
We will also work with our citizens for science groups around the country to make them aware that in addition to monitoring the problems with evolution, we'd like them to work with us to support teachers and in teaching good science and climate science as well.
We have some information that the new national science education standards that the National Academy is helping to to outline. They're in the process of being written now by a non-profit organization. When those are released, we have good reason to believe that climate science will be included.
Global warming is included there, which is going to increase the pressure upon teachers to to teach good science, just like the movement of the state. Science education standards over the last 15 years have increased the pressure on teachers for teaching evolution.
So we are you know, we're going to stick to the science. We're going to leave policy out if you're what Naomi Oreskes calls a free market fundamentalist or if you are somebody who is a green and, you know, whatever you want to do, that's not our job description right now.
I want to go back to the word denialism, which often pops up into these things.
It's obviously a derogatory word, which is why we try not to use it. I actually use it just fine. No, that's that's that's one of the things I wanted to ask you.
Yeah, you do try not to use it because it's hard, because it's it's become well, the people who who do not accept the consensus on global warming, which is a much clunkier way of much easier said than the global warming denial is.
But, you know, those folks, the people who don't accept the consensus view, want to be called skeptics. That name is taken. Right.
We don't want them calling themselves skeptics because that just muddies the water with us. Yeah, right.
They don't like deny list because they think it sounds like Holocaust denialism.
I don't think that's necessarily the case, but that's the way they feel my job.
And actually this gets back to fill plate and your concerns at Atim if our job is persuasion. And it is I mean, last I looked, I live in a democracy, I am at least part of it. Yes, I'm not a strong man.
I can't make you agree with me. Right. So if we're in the business of persuasion, you are very unpersuasive when you start out by insulting somebody.
So I'm you know, I would like I would like the people who don't accept climate change to listen to me. And the finger is going to get jammed in the years if I start out by using a term for them, which they find insulting.
Well, I think the Tasco. Sorry to interrupt. I think the task of persuading the people who disagree with you is a different task from the task of persuading policymakers and the public who are sort of undecided. And there might be a different strategy that actually works best for you.
Yeah, but you can't say if you don't accept climate change, don't listen to this broadcast.
Once you go public with a certain label, it's hard to know.
But when I when I've talked to I moderated a panel in Texas a couple of years ago now asking very skilled communicators, oh, I'm sorry, it's the North Konstantinov skepticism, a fine meeting.
I might have a very fine meeting. We can all agree with the totally objective, unbiased point of view.
I was talking to a bunch of skilled science communicators, James Randi and George Rob and and Steve Mirsky, etc., and I was asking them about this question of whether to sort of take the take the offensive and, you know, use mockery and really just, you know, attack the position that you're arguing against or whether to be more, you know, I don't know, diplomatic.
And they said, you know, when you're in a debate, you have to decide, like you often can't possibly convince the person you're in the debate with.
And your goal instead should be to convince the audience. And so then, you know, using using mockery and being aggressive can actually certainly wouldn't convince someone you were trying to convince directly, but it can often convince the audience.
I wonder if there's sort of the science. Well, right. The question. Yeah.
And in my experience with the evolution issue, and I strongly suspect it's going to be the situation with the global warming issue, you have a a range of people out there, some of whom are very strongly anti fill in the blank and evolution and global warming and others who really don't know very much about it and would like to learn a little bit more because they've it's kind of in their peripheral vision where they've heard it on the news or something, but they don't know anything about it.
And everybody in between. And I suppose actually the ones further out would be those who already agree with you. Now, you can certainly be revving up your base. I mean, if you know the the insulting, the mockery, the telling jokes at your opponent's expense, that revs up the base. It does nothing to persuade anybody else, in my opinion.
But there was another reason I brought up the Bonilla's. That's because a few months ago I was talking to Michael Specter of The New Yorker, who is author of the book called Denialism. And the subtitle is How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives.
And so, yeah, I think he's actually, if not primarily, certainly in a good part, responsible for so many more people in the last few months, in the last year or so, using the term denialism. Now, where was going with this is that there are several other chapters in his book that don't have anything to do with evolution or climate change, and that I wonder if those are going to become further expanses of ocean or sea organization.
So the one the obvious one is the issue of vaccines and, you know, the safety, the health, safety of vaccines. But there's also a chapter on organic fetish, what he calls organic fetish. So a lot of pseudo science that deals that deals with claims about nutrition, you know, what is good for you and what is not good for you and so on and so forth. And there is another one on Ignacia, which it's like it's a plant, but more health claims.
Yeah, it's more about health claims and the claim there is that it is effective.
That's not on our list. That's on the skeptics list, OK. I mean, to me that that sort of falls right into that gray area between science and pseudo science like that.
Your book was all about and plugging his book, which incidentally was called The Previous One or the one you were to now, but it was called denying evolution. True.
Funny. You should mention there was a good friend.
No, that's those those issues are not issues that teachers have to deal with. And that really is our focus because we you know, we are right. We're the inch wide Milda folks.
We don't the skeptics have a much wider range of things that they do know that make sense as a criterion that because, you know, again, the National Center for Science Education than than it does with what Lebaran for teaching. And unless these things become relevant for teaching, which may I mean, teachers can certainly ask us about it.
We can direct them to sites where they could find more information. But, you know. Massimo, there was one thing that you were kind of getting at. Actually, this was several minutes ago when you were talking about the the skeptics and how surprised you were when a skeptical inquiry was getting all this blowback on the global warming issue.
And I don't wish to put words in your mouth, certainly, but I'm wondering how many of you are perfectly capable of defending yourself. I know that.
But I wonder whether some of your surprise was that maybe you. Expected more of our fellow skeptics, though. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, many skeptics are scientists, many all of them are science fans and they may not be employed as scientists, but they all love science. They love critical thinking. That's why, you know, very many skeptics and that's why we're interested in the paranormal and all these other things. And, you know, how do you look at this issue from the standpoint of a scientist?
That's fun, whether you're a scientist or just a science fan, not just your science fan.
But, you know, I don't want to overstate the research because I think it is preliminary.
But the research that I've seen makes sense that when you have a position that's based on an ideology, it's very hard to shake that position with empirical evidence.
You know, I've said for years you don't solve the creation and evolution issue by shoveling more science onto you have to deal with that underlying ideological issue.
In the case of climate change, the underlying ideological issues are politics and economics.
And if somebody is a a you know, has is terribly fearful of big government, if somebody is terribly concerned about free market and not hindering the free market in any way, these are ideologies and they are held very strongly.
And it takes it's not that it's impossible to change somebody's mind with empirical evidence. But you need to first get Buy-In, so to speak, from that person that, well, if I'm right, how will this affect your view? You know, in dealing with the conservative Christian, you are wasting your time talking about all the science behind evolution unless that person first admits to his or herself. If evolution happened, I don't necessarily lose big right now.
How do you do that with people who deny climate change? What does that buy and how do you convince them to think?
OK, you know, as I say, we're still an hour. We're taking baby steps or we're getting a new climate change employee coming into the first of the month. But we're still, you know, learning a great deal about this. But my my gut feeling and I'm willing to change my mind with experience, my gut feeling is that just as with the evolution issue, there are lots of there's lots of dichotomous thinking. You know, you're either an evolutionist atheist or you're Christian creationist.
And the idea of a Christian evolutionist is something that most people have either not encountered or thought about.
But it's a continuum, not a dichotomy. I have the feeling that it's the same thing with climate change. I'm a Republican. Therefore, I must be against climate change because all my Republican friends are against climate change.
Well, if you go on the Internet, you will find Republicans for the environment. There are green Republicans, right.
And you need to make like there are gay Republicans and there are all sorts of other things that are Republicans, no political parties as monolithic as they would like to be.
But I think it you know, there's there's a message that every party wants to put out, and Republicans particularly have been have been very clear that part of that message is that global warming is not happening.
We don't need to do anything and so forth. And yet when you look historically, the Republican Party has had many very strong environmentalists, even the you know, the the sainted Ronald Reagan had many good things to say about protecting the environment. Well, so we need to make make those things better known.
It's interesting, you mentioned the dean. We just talked about how monolithic or not a particular party can be in terms of ideology, as part of research for a new book I just finished running and it's going to come out next year. I actually looked into the social science research and political science research on the connection between political positions, political parties and ideological positions. And apparently there is pretty convincing research that over the last you know, we all have this impression that over the last decade or more, politics in the United States has gotten much more polarized and so forth.
Well, it turns out that that is empirically true in terms of the official positions of the parties in the candidates. And it's actually not true at all in terms of the position of the public. The American public has moved toward more centrist positions.
We've always been centrist.
Yes, but, you know, witness, for instance, the fact that now there is a fairly sizable component of the American public that say, for instance, accepts, you know, gay unions. Yeah.
Now, these people have actually looked into several of these issues.
And I've noticed that people keep voting for a party or another, largely because we only have two alternatives and because the party's platform, particularly the Republican platform, tend to be fairly monolithic. That gives the impression that people and has been, in fact, radicalizing. There are objective measures about the fact that the political platforms have been, in fact, moving apart from each other.
But we have also the impression and therefore it's the entire country or that this polarization is because the country is polarized. It's not the country is actually becoming less polarized, demonstrably so over the last 20 or 30 years. It's the parties that have gone further out from this, which I would argue, of course, mostly the Republican Party has gone farther out.
But the thing is, the two are decoupled.
And to me, that is that is a slight reason for for optimism, because after all, what really matters in the long term, hopefully, is the public opinion about certain things, because eventually politicians will follow the public politicians really not only in this country, but anywhere lead. They're supposed to be leaders, but they really lead. So eventually they'll listen to the fact that, oh, my gosh, a majority of Americans, for instance, was just the other day approves of both gay marriages and legalization of marijuana.
Well, you know, once you get to those numbers, then eventually the legislation and the political positions will follow. So this this idea of radicalization is actually it's a little bit misleading in that in that sense.
But those data are very interesting. I'll I'll be I'll be very interested to see that. Yeah. And my my friend John Staver from Kansas many years ago during the Kansas Evolution Wars mentioned democracy got us into this. And democracy is going to get us out optimistic.
But I agree with you. You get the government you deserve.
Yeah. Although Edmund Burke is not my favorite philosopher, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. That's a good phrase.
I wanted to mention also something about, you know, when you were talking about the effectiveness of talking to. For instance, the debate during public debates or during public presentations when I'm not trying to persuade you, your opponents know exactly that, you're not trying to persuade your opponent who is in your audience. Exactly. You have to look at the audience. So I learned that lesson very quickly when I started doing debates and when I was living in Tennessee about what was effective and was not effective.
And it's pretty clear to me from from my personal experience that actually there is some research that sort of backs this up. The thing that was important was not my arguments about science, which is why most of my colleagues, you know, biology in biology, fortunately fail, fail, because they come in with this idea that, well, I know the science.
I'll explain to you. That's it.
And the story will smack yourself on the forehead and say, right, exactly right. Well, that never happened. So what instead did happen over and over again was a couple of things.
The most recurrent two things that were predictive, predictive of positive results, where if I caught my opponent lying, if I could show, you know, sliding hand that he was actually misquoting somebody, something, I know I did that a couple of times. And people came after the data from the other side and said, you know, we really are disturbed by the fact that our guy was lying because he has, in fact, more accurately the truth.
Why does he have to lie? And the other thing is simply coming across as a nice guy to be likable.
Yeah, you have no idea how many people came up to me after the.
Well, I was expecting, you know, just this really awful person, you know, eating babies and spitting fire and, you know, horns on his head and tail and all that sort of nice guy.
So I thought you'd be eating babies during a debate. Everyone knows that, for that matter. Yes, of course. After the debate right now. But those are, in fact, the two things really that make an immediate impact. I mean, I'm not I'm not trying to suggest that science solid science education doesn't help in the long term. I think it does help. It's absolutely necessary. But if you want to get the first wedge, the first thing that makes somebody take you seriously, think doubt what what they've been thinking for a long time.
You don't do it through rational arguments and evidence. You do it through being likeable and hopefully catching your opponent into behaviors that are not appropriate.
So I have some pretty strong feelings about debate anyway.
Yeah, I mean, when you think about it, when was the last time any scientific issue was decided by debate? Right.
I mean, why are, you know, debate policy, debate matters of opinion, but it's ridiculous to debate whether the earth is ancient or.
Yeah, I mean, you're absolutely, absolutely right. But on the other hand, as you said earlier, this is not a debate about science. This is about a debate of it's a debate about making certain people better appreciate. So it's about education. Not not not the science.
So one of the things the first thing that I quickly started doing during the Betties, I started out, for instance, debating new English for from the Institute for Creation Research, good old, chronically cold, good old, good old.
And doing the first thing I would do, which would take some of these wind off, is I want to make clear that this is not a debate about science. This is just a bit about policy. And in that sense, you're doing exactly what political candidates are doing. You're any fat.
Analogously, you're winning and losing in debate, not on the substance, but on whether you are likable and, you know, in your, you know, articulate and you're nice and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, that is the situation. Yes, it is about persuasion, not about exactly at that level.
Yeah, it hasn't. It is not only about persuasion.
If if you if you feel compelled to debate even creationism or global change or whatever. Be very careful about the question that you're debating, and it should not be things that are empirically determined, you can you can talk about the nature of science and is does creation science or does intelligent design fit the precepts of science? You know, it hasn't.
I'd love to hear that. Has intelligent design illuminated anything about biology?
I mean that of course, there is no shortage of it. Everyone was debating whether living things have common ancestors.
Is is a is a dumb thing to debate.
I would agree. I don't get me started on debates. Well, we're going to wrap up this section of the podcast, but we're going to move on now to the rationally speaking PEX.
Welcome back. Every episode, we pick a suggestion for our listeners that has called our rational fancy. This time we ask our guest, Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, for her suggestion since we've been talking about NBC's new climate change initiative.
I want to mention a website that I encountered that I think is really, really interesting, you know, for refuting creation science or intelligent design. We've got Talk Origins Dog, a comparable site I would like to recommend is skeptical science that come it lists the top 160 or plus or minus anti global warming arguments and very clear refutations at two levels, sort of the basics and the intermediate level. So check it out. Oh, excellent.
Hopefully someone, some enterprising developer, will make an iPhone or Android app for that.
There is what there is to have it now.
So it's been a pleasure to have you here, Gina, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what you guys do with this new initiative.
And I look forward to checking back in with you guys in a few months to year and to see how much you've learned and whether your armor is still intact or is in tatters from the the fight that I'm sure is going to ensue.
But I know you guys will handle it beautifully. Well, maybe in the future, some time you can have our climate scientists done. I'll introduce you to him when he takes office next.
Oh, that'd be excellent. Thank you for inviting me. Such a pleasure. And I'll also add in closing that our listeners can go to NCC Dotcom, the official website for the National Center for Science Education, to learn more about the upcoming Climate Science Initiative, as well as all the other wonderful work that NASA does.
This concludes another episode of rationally speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense.
The rationally speaking podcast is presented by New York City skeptics for program notes, links, and to get involved in an online conversation about this and other episodes, please visit rationally speaking podcast Dog. This podcast is produced by Benny Carlin and recorded in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York. Our theme, Truth by Todd Rundgren, is used by permission. Thank you for listening.