Oh Fuck Here We Go Again I Thought You People Wore Out The Bearings On The Merry-Go-Round

March 30, 2009

As if the day needed further interference.

Molesting the pleasant headfuzz of my third Coopers Strong Ale is another tempest in a teaframe. Now, instead of reading about science for the next week, I’ll be wading through scads of righteous indignation and handwringing, and a thousand stymied nylon shirt types banging their e-cocks on the cyber-kitchen counter. Tuppenny fuck and blast!

Let’s start at the beginning.

Framing is the idea that the words we choose to express something draw upon, AND THIS IS THE SHOCKING PART, previously assigned meanings of those words, various associations, stereotypes, etc. Otherwise known as CONTEXT. But context to the extent where sociologists can get tenure out of it, and pontificate endlessly. i.e. ‘gun safety’ carries different connotations to ‘gun control’. Or ‘pro-life’ carries different connotations to ‘anti-woman’ or ‘pro-choice’ to ‘dirty godless baby murderer’. Who’d have thought?

Framing, while interesting to a degree a little less than moderate, makes me piss blood. This is not because it states that words arise from previous contexts, and we should be cognisent of those if we are to use them effectively to communicate. This is a Sensible Thing, and I defy you to argue.

Let’s quickly state some VERY obvious truths, and then we can get to the core of the matter:

1) You can’t convince someone to abandon deeply held beliefs by bashing them repeatedly in the face with evidence. Especially evidence that is difficult to understand, worryingly reflective of our shared reality and involves thinking about ‘that sciencey stuff’. It doesn’t matter if you’re RIGHT or even AS CLOSE TO RIGHT AS CAN HUMANLY BE DEMONSTRATED BY THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD IN THE ABSENCE OF A CREDIBLE ALTERNATIVE. You can’t just tell Jesuslovesme Malone, Chartered Accountant, my Brother on This Earth, that he’s waking up in a godless world and expect him to thank you for the revelation.

2) It’s at least moderately confronting to have a discussion where your expressed purpose is to piss from a great height on people’s deeply cherished reasons FOR BEING ALIVE. In American discourse, this goes beyond a bit iffy to particularly bad, shocking and bad again. Bunch of sooks.

Let me put this another way: “The point here is not that there’s nothing for scientists to worry about or that they should cease their efforts to teach evolution. But it is important for scientists to understand that they do not face a public inherently hostile to science (even among the relatively small percentage who are fundamentalists), and that public attitudes towards both science and religion are complicated and often contradictory. It’s not even clear what most people mean when they say they don’t believe that humans have evolved. Is this detail a matter of some concern to them, or is this just a casual way to say that they viscerally reject the notion of a random Universe? Evolution is largely a symbolic issue to the public, and may be a poor measure of how religious attitudes affect the reception of science more generally.”

My addendum:

“At no point in time should scientists mention the fact that Ockham’s Razor swings its mighty shavin’ blade around like a right bastard when you come to the question of whether or not the universe came to be as the outcome subsequent to the demonstrable principles of the existence of matter itself, or WHETHER OR NOT A FORCE GREATER KNOWLEDGE, UNDERSTANDING OR TRUTH ITSELF DECIDED TO CREATE THE FUCKING LOT ON A WHIM.”

It is extraordinarily difficult to have this conversation. I am not a paragon of civility and respect, but I will struggle with the phrase “Oh, so you’re a Catholic MY GOD MAN DO YOU KNOW THAT YOU BELIEVE IN FAIRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF YOUR GARDEN?” In summary, you catch more flies with honey than by screaming “DIE YOU FUCKING ARTHROPOD” at the flies.

3) Is it just me, or do people who write incessantly about the communication of science (like journalists and sociologists) appear to be the discursive scrotum of communication ABOUT science? Far more trouble than they’re worth? Sorry, that was an aside.

4) Communication is a delicate balance between how something is said and what is said. Quel news, Batman.

OK, so.

“Several scientist authors and pundits, led by the biologist Richard Dawkins (2006), argue that the implications of evolutionary science undermine not only the validity of religion but also respect for all religious faith. Their claims help fuel the conflict frame in the news media, generating journalistic frame devices that emphasize “God vs. Science,” or “Science versus religion.” These maverick communicators, dubbed “The New Atheists,” also reinforce deficit model thinking, consistently blaming conflict over evolution on public ignorance and irrational religious beliefs.”


Well. I think what we’re about to hear from several sources is BECAUSE THERE ARE THINGS INVOLVED HERE LIKE EVIDENCE, WE WOULD ARGUE THAT WE HAPPEN TO BE CORRECT. The core of the conflict: can and should we be right at the risk of offending people?


“In making these claims, not only does Dawkins use his authority as the “Oxford University Professor of the Public Understanding of Science” to denigrate various social groups, but he gives resonance to the false narrative of social conservatives that the scientific establishment has an anti-religion agenda.”

Dear Lord. What if it was a REAL narrative? What if we re-frame “anti-religious” as “pro-truth” or “falsifiability friendly”?

This whole furore is an ongoing conflict between the evidence, and one man’s perception of how the evidence should be best presented in order to best convince those who don’t, won’t or can’t believe in the evidence. With that in mind, could I ask people to let it go right now before I have to get bored with you all over again?

P.S. My own little pond in the scientific establishment has a VERY caustic anti-religious agenda. Because we all think it’s a bunch of caramelised toss. I recognise the fact that this statement is rife with observation bias, and that the 60-odd people I refer to in said pond are probably all closet Mormons.