Unscientific Science Blogs

One of my chief complaints about many science blogs is that there really isn’t much science to be found there. Many of the most popular consist primarily of diatribes about various political issues (gay marriage, immigration, the tea party, etc) and the personal religious beliefs of the blogger (who is more often than not an evangelistic New Atheist). What one will find very little discussion of science, as in information about current research, particular papers, or the state of various scientific fields. That was why I was glad to see a recent piece in the New York Times which affirms my suspicion. Reporter Virginia Heffernan writes:

Hammering away at an ideology, substituting stridency for contemplation, pummeling its enemies in absentia: ScienceBlogs has become Fox News for the religion-baiting, peak-oil crowd. Though Myers and other science bloggers boast that they can be jerky in the service of anti-charlatanism, that’s not what’s bothersome about them. What’s bothersome is that the site is misleading. It’s not science by scientists, not even remotely; it’s science blogging by science bloggers. And science blogging, apparently, is a form of redundant and effortfully incendiary rhetoric that draws bad-faith moral authority from the word “science” and from occasional invocations of “peer-reviewed” thises and thats.

Under cover of intellectual rigor, the science bloggers — or many of the most visible ones, anyway — prosecute agendas so charged with bigotry that it doesn’t take a pun-happy French critic or a rapier-witted Cambridge atheist to call this whole ScienceBlogs enterprise what it is, or has become: class-war claptrap.

With that, she pretty much nails it. Now there is nothing wrong with devoting one’s site to advocating for a Leftist political agenda, but if a site’s primary content consists of whining about creationists, the religious, tea partiers, Republicans and advocating gay marriage, atheism, and Progressive politics, then it isn’t science site, it’s a propaganda tool.

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24 Responses to Unscientific Science Blogs

  1. She doesn’t like PZ, atheists, and is demanding everyone be respectful of everything. All the while, she’s also throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Ho-hum.

  2. jackhudson says:

    I think her expectation is fairly reasonable – that a blog that purports to be about science, actually be about science – not a political or social agenda.

  3. Dan says:

    “Many of the most popular consist primarily of diatribes about various political issues (gay marriage, immigration, the tea party, etc) and the personal religious beliefs of the blogger (who is more often than not an evangelistic New Atheist).”

    What, scientists can’t have opinions about these things? It’s easy, if you don’t want to read their political views, skip to the posts on science.

  4. jackhudson says:

    What, scientists can’t have opinions about these things? It’s easy, if you don’t want to read their political views, skip to the posts on science.

    Sure, scientists like any person can have opinions about anything they want; the objection is to the notion that the focus of the blog is science – particularly for those blogs that are part of the Scienceblogs group.

    And for a lot of them, ‘skipping to the posts on science’ would entail generally skipping the blog all together.

    A more honest labeling might be ‘Angry atheists who share similar opinions and occasionally mention science’.

  5. Dan says:

    “…the objection is to the notion that the focus of the blog is on science.”

    It’s their blog. They can write about science + other topics, if that’s what they want. They’re blogs, afterall.

  6. Dan says:

    Oh, and this…
    “…that a blog that purports to be about science…”

    Except that it’s never purported to be just about science. It’s always been just as much about the culture of science, the views of scientists, education of science, and the politics of science, as science itself.

  7. jackhudson says:

    Sure – but if someone calls their blog ‘All About Food’ as part of a collection blogs that purports to be about all things culinary and then goes on to write about the stock market in post after post, they have have mislabeled their blog.

    Either they are being deceptive, or they are confused.

  8. Dan says:

    Good thing that there isn’t a blog called All About Food on Scienceblogs then.

  9. jackhudson says:

    Well that is the point; they wouldn’t call it All About Food, they would call it The Science of Food Production or some such, and the posts would consist of diatribes about gay marriage, the evils of religion, and the glories of atheism.

  10. Dan says:

    No the point is that you’re making up hypothetical blogs so that you have your strawman to beat up on.

  11. jackhudson says:

    It was an analogy to make a point. As in ‘All about Food’ is to ‘Culinary Blogs’ as ‘Phyrangula’ is to Scienceblogs.

    To elucidate further – Wikipedia desribes it this way:

    ScienceBlogs is an invitation-only blog network and virtual community. It was created by Seed Media Group in 2006 to enhance the public understanding of science.

    The Scienceblogs description says this about it’s purpose:

    ScienceBlogs was created by Seed Media Group. We believe that science literacy is a pre-condition for progress in the 21st century. At a time when public interest in science is high but public understanding of science remains weak, we have set out to create innovative media ventures to improve science literacy and to advance global science culture.

    My point is if they exist to ‘enhance the public perception of science’ in any authoritative way, then their regular diatribes about wholly political and social issues ultimately diminishes that purpose.

  12. Dan says:

    You had said that your point, when making the analogy, was that the Scienceblogs bloggers shouldn’t misrepresent themselves. I agree that “All About Food” blogging on politics would be outside the theme for that blog. But Pharyngula’s byline is “Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal.” And he is a scientist. So am I missing something? How is he misrepresenting himself? Should he include his love of cephalopods in the byline too?!

    I agree though that Scienceblogs was created to promote science literacy. SEED Media Group’s byline is also “Science is culture.” So obviously some people think that discussing the culture of science and scientists is another good way to promote literacy of how science works and scientists think. Obviously you do not see it this way however, as you did say earlier that you think scientists should keep their opinions on other matters to themselves when they blog. Why, exactly again? You didn’t explain this earlier. The Bill of Rights still applies to scientists, doesn’t it?

  13. jackhudson says:

    Maybe I am not being clear (always a possibility).

    I have no problem with scientists (or anyone else) expressing opinions on any issue. And perhaps I am ‘old school’ insomuch as I don’t consider ruminations on gay marriage, atheism, the tea party, etc to be issues that fall within the realm of science topics or enhancing ‘science literacy’.

    As Phyrangula is the top and much awarded blog in Scienceblogs ouvre of blogs, it would presumably fall within their general purpose for having an invitation only collection blogs devoted to science. I contend that it fails in this respect – a reader going there to become more scientifically literate would not only fail to find what he or she was looking for, they would be subjected to a barrage of left-wing, atheistic propaganda. This would be true of many blogs which are under the Scienceblogs umbrella, as well as other blogs that claim to be devoted to advancing science.

    So my qualm is not with the right to express certain opinions, my qualm is with false labeling – purporting to be about one thing and actually being about another. I think it is misleading, and ultimately diminishes society’s view of scientists and science. Science is a great tool when used correctly within it’s limits; when it is used to give a sheen of authority to ideas that either are unsupported by science, or not within the realm of scientific investigation it corrupts science. I suspect many of these blog writers are fully aware what they are writing does nothing to advance scientific understanding, but they like the legitimacy that comes with expressing opinions that have the air of empirical thought. Hope this is more clear.

    By the way – thanks Dan for keeping me on my toes and forcing me to clarify statements.

  14. Several big name bloggers view religion as the biggest wall to better science education and understanding. Attacking the wall makes sense in that sense. That doesn’t mean merely going after religion, but also its supporters (i.e., the aforementioned wing of the Republican Party, the Tea Party).

    And no one said the blogs must be science-only. Saying they ought to be is a good way of slyly saying “Shut up, atheists”, but science is meant as a theme, not an exclusive endeavor.

  15. […] Hanging Fruit Over on For the Sake of Science (Another mislabeled blog which rarely actually deals with science) Michael Hawkins purports to deal with “the top five […]

  16. jackhudson says:

    Several big name bloggers view religion as the biggest wall to better science education and understanding. Attacking the wall makes sense in that sense. That doesn’t mean merely going after religion, but also its supporters (i.e., the aforementioned wing of the Republican Party, the Tea Party).

    Well considering that one of the most religious countries in the world also happens to be one of the most scientifically literate, it would seem that premise is easily negated. There is no correlation between religiosity and ability to understand scientific principles.

    But even with this being true, these bloggers aren’t just opposing particular groups – they are advocating certain immigration policies, gay marriage, and certain healthcare plans. This in no way advances science literacy – though it may display the ignorance of certain bloggers on immigration, marriage, and healthcare.

    And no one said the blogs must be science-only. Saying they ought to be is a good way of slyly saying “Shut up, atheists”, but science is meant as a theme, not an exclusive endeavor.

    Actually it’s a direct way of saying, “Be honest atheists!”

  17. Well considering that one of the most religious countries in the world also happens to be one of the most scientifically literate, it would seem that premise is easily negated. There is no correlation between religiosity and ability to understand scientific principles.

    Ignoring for a moment that the U.S. is constantly falling behind in its science education, 64% of Americans would reject a finding if it contradicted a long-held religious belief. 40-45% of Americans are creationists, believing the Universe came into existence in the middle of the agricultural revolution. Religion is the sole problem for all those people.

  18. jackhudson says:

    What you can’t ignore for the moment (despite valiant efforts) is that the US has consistently been a religious country and consistently been at the forefront of scientific endeavors. Your thesis is wrong.

  19. That is caused by three major factors:

    1. Population
    2. Money
    3. The Cold war

    A significant portion of our population is anti-science and/or science-illiterate. We’ve been fortunate that sheer numbers have been able to off-set our evident weaknesses.

    We have more money than anyone else. This coupled with the fact that we spend far too much on military-based technology (which spills over into mainstream life in more practical terms) is what helps to drive much of our scientific endeavoring.

    Since the end of the Cold War, Americans have fallen behind significantly in science.

    But all this aside, being at the forefront of scientific endeavors doesn’t mean a significant portion of the country is hampered by religion in their science education. Again, I have actual data: 64% are willing to reject evidence for faith. 40-45% are YECs.

  20. jackhudson says:

    A significant portion of our population is anti-science and/or science-illiterate. We’ve been fortunate that sheer numbers have been able to off-set our evident weaknesses.

    Actually, there is little evidence of this, particularly with comparison with other nations, unless one equates not being an atheist with being scientifically illiterate. Most don’t.

    We have more money than anyone else. This coupled with the fact that we spend far too much on military-based technology (which spills over into mainstream life in more practical terms) is what helps to drive much of our scientific endeavoring.

    This point does nothing to bolster the idea that religious belief diminishes scientific literacy. I would argue we are more prosperous because of our religiously derived economic principles, which in turn, as you point out, bolsters scientific understanding.

    Since the end of the Cold War, Americans have fallen behind significantly in science.

    We certainly haven’t become more religious since the cold war, so this doesn’t support your point. And there are a number of other factors that have happened since the cold war that diminish learning all together (divorce, out of wedlock births, an entrenched urban poverty class, etc). Also, by your estimation our opponents in the cold war (the Soviets) were much more coldly devoted to faith-free science and should have been much more scientifically literate – it doesn’t seem to have been the case, at least not in a way that mattered.

    But all this aside, being at the forefront of scientific endeavors doesn’t mean a significant portion of the country is hampered by religion in their science education. Again, I have actual data: 64% are willing to reject evidence for faith. 40-45% are YECs.

    Well no, you have vague numbers which you claim are correlated – the reality is we have always been one of the most religious countries in the world as well as one of the most scientifically advanced, long before the cold before the cold war. Those are the facts. As I have pointed out elsewhere, little the creationists believe (or don’t believe) is critical to a practical application of the sciences.

  21. Actually, there is little evidence of this, particularly with comparison with other nations, unless one equates not being an atheist with being scientifically illiterate. Most don’t.

    Are you mad? Polls are constantly showing America falling behind, not to mention all the rampant creationism.

    This point does nothing to bolster the idea that religious belief diminishes scientific literacy. I would argue we are more prosperous because of our religiously derived economic principles, which in turn, as you point out, bolsters scientific understanding.

    I’m pointing out your flawed reasoning. You’ve concluded that my thesis is wrong because the U.S. is religious and at the forefront of science. I’ve pointed out one of the reasons you’ve willfully ignored that better explains our position.

    If you want to argue that war is a religious principle, I won’t contest you.

    We certainly haven’t become more religious since the cold war, so this doesn’t support your point.

    You don’t understand my point. After showing reasons why the U.S. is at the forefront of science, I directly went back to talking about how religion hampers science education. That is, there are a number of secular reasons the U.S. government excels at science. These reasons help to trump much of the problems religion poses to science education. However, as we see with the lack of a Cold War, religion is ready to continue its attack on proper science education.

    Christ. Shall I go on? We have a lot of land for expansion, we have a lot land for farming, we’ve been able to support ourselves for a long time, until recently we exported more than we imported, we weren’t devastated by two world wars on our own land, we used many of Europe’s best scientists to develop massive arms, last I checked we were number 2 in tourism (as a product of the varied landscapes and cities we have to offer), we thrived for a long time off slave labor, we have no hostile neighbors…

    Oh, and religion touts faith as a virtue. It doesn’t get more anti-science than that.

  22. jackhudson says:

    Are you mad? Polls are constantly showing America falling behind, not to mention all the rampant creationism.

    I am open to a citation of a particular poll; I suspect that the polls you are familiar with say what most I have seen say – we are more than capable when it comes to practical applications of the sciences, and less interested in those sciences which impinge on metaphysics and have little practical value.

    I’m pointing out your flawed reasoning. You’ve concluded that my thesis is wrong because the U.S. is religious and at the forefront of science. I’ve pointed out one of the reasons you’ve willfully ignored that better explains our position.

    Actually, I think the opposite is true; correlation does not imply causation, and you are trying to correlate vague notions of science illiteracy with religious belief – when many other factors explain a general lack of education.

    If you want to argue that war is a religious principle, I won’t contest you.

    The cold war was more a war of ideas than guns, and our religious principles kept us from being on the losing side.

    Christ. Shall I go on? We have a lot of land for expansion, we have a lot land for farming, we’ve been able to support ourselves for a long time, until recently we exported more than we imported, we weren’t devastated by two world wars on our own land, we used many of Europe’s best scientists to develop massive arms, last I checked we were number 2 in tourism (as a product of the varied landscapes and cities we have to offer), we thrived for a long time off slave labor, we have no hostile neighbors…

    None of which negates our religious nature or the fact that it did nothing to diminish our capacity to develop scientifically. I mean if what you say here is the reason we are more scientifically advanced, then it follows what we need to advance scientifically is greater wealth and food production – not less religion.

    Oh, and religion touts faith as a virtue. It doesn’t get more anti-science than that.

    That is rather like saying, “religion touts love as a value. It doesn’t get more anti-science than that”. Science in particular has nothing to do with either, but that fact doesn’t diminish science, since science is merely a tool with specific restraints, not a foundation for building a culture or relationships. Religious belief in and of itself doesn’t diminish science anymore than art or music might.

  23. I am open to a citation of a particular poll; I suspect that the polls you are familiar with say what most I have seen say – we are more than capable when it comes to practical applications of the sciences, and less interested in those sciences which impinge on metaphysics and have little practical value.

    There was a recent poll that showed American students falling further behind in the past few years, but I am unable to find it. There are slightly older studies which shows America’s place among nations: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/a0923110.html

    Moving the goalposts, by the way, is not acceptable. Americans reject evolution not based upon evidence, but because they have been indoctrinated into religions.

    Actually, I think the opposite is true; correlation does not imply causation, and you are trying to correlate vague notions of science illiteracy with religious belief – when many other factors explain a general lack of education.

    I think there’s a disconnect in communication based upon some awkward wording of mine. I doubt you think the opposite of my point: that money is a major factor in why America is at the forefront of scientific endeavor.

    The cold war was more a war of ideas than guns, and our religious principles kept us from being on the losing side.

    I could have sworn it was being in a more open economy that didn’t collapse.

    None of which negates our religious nature or the fact that it did nothing to diminish our capacity to develop scientifically. I mean if what you say here is the reason we are more scientifically advanced, then it follows what we need to advance scientifically is greater wealth and food production – not less religion.

    What religious idea helped in the launching of all the Apollo missions?

    Yes, more wealth would help. Or, more reasonably, more money spent on research and science education, would help. I’m not sure why you think that because X can help that Y somehow doesn’t hurt. “It’d really help me to have a new car to get around. That means getting punched in the face wouldn’t hurt.”

    That is rather like saying, “religion touts love as a value. It doesn’t get more anti-science than that”. Science in particular has nothing to do with either, but that fact doesn’t diminish science, since science is merely a tool with specific restraints, not a foundation for building a culture or relationships. Religious belief in and of itself doesn’t diminish science anymore than art or music might.

    Science does not incorporate the opposite of love. It does incorporate the opposite of faith. Your analogy is way off.

  24. jackhudson says:

    There was a recent poll that showed American students falling further behind in the past few years, but I am unable to find it. There are slightly older studies which shows America’s place among nations: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/a0923110.html

    Well, nothing in these stats show a correlation between religiosity and science aptitude. I would say it’s a dead issue unsupported by…data.

    Moving the goalposts, by the way, is not acceptable. Americans reject evolution not based upon evidence, but because they have been indoctrinated into religions.

    So?

    I think there’s a disconnect in communication based upon some awkward wording of mine. I doubt you think the opposite of my point: that money is a major factor in why America is at the forefront of scientific endeavor.

    I think money might be a factor in education generally at some point. I have also mentioned a number of other factors that have nothing to do with religion. If you were really concerned about science education, I would start with reducing the time wasted on television and the internet, get kids to read, get families involved, which would in turn require a support for the stability and health of families generally. Then after those issues are dealt with, if you still think the religious nature of our culture is a hindrance, get back to me.

    I could have sworn it was being in a more open economy that didn’t collapse.

    We were a ‘more open economy’ because we were a more open society that respected the individual liberties we were endowed with by our Creator upon which the state couldn’t impose its will. The Soviets had no such bulwark against the imposition of the state.

    What religious idea helped in the launching of all the Apollo missions?

    Well Kennedy said it began with the founding of Plymouth Colony by the great Puritan and man of faith William Bradford, and that, “as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”.

    Yes, more wealth would help. Or, more reasonably, more money spent on research and science education, would help. I’m not sure why you think that because X can help that Y somehow doesn’t hurt. “It’d really help me to have a new car to get around. That means getting punched in the face wouldn’t hurt.”

    I am not actually opposed to spending more money on fruitful research and education; I am opposed to wasting more of my money on the likes of PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne who seem to spend most of their time on anti-Christian diatribes.

    Science does not incorporate the opposite of love. It does incorporate the opposite of faith. Your analogy is way off.

    No, science does not employ faith; at least not in the immediate sense. Obviously all lines of thought employ faith in something at their foundations. Nor does it employ love, nor does it employ compassion; these are different considerations to achieve different goals.

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