[FoRK] Harvard University approves undergrad program in human regenerative biology

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Thu Mar 19 21:37:57 PDT 2009


On Mar 19, 2009, at 8:02 PM, Russell Turpin wrote:
> On Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 4:55 PM, J. Andrew Rogers
> <andrew at ceruleansystems.com> wrote:
>>  You can remove the "fundies"   (define it however you like) from  
>> the demographics
>> entirely and you will still come up with roughly the same majority  
>> perspective. ...
>
> I don't believe that. I've been seeing too many correlations of
> various political issues with religious belief.


That is precisely my point.  Your are pretty obviously conflating  
religious belief with political affiliation, or at least making some  
unwarranted assumptions about it.  The landscape is much more  
complicated than you seem to want to allow.


If you look at the distribution of the people who self identify as  
being extremely religious, you discover that about half the states  
with the strongest concentrations of the very religious are  
unambiguously blue states.  The party affiliation of the very  
religious is a lot more even than most people assume. I live in a deep  
blue state (California), and the majority of the hyper-religious I  
know are Democrats; the few Republicans I meet in these parts tend to  
be atheists.  For all the pandering the Republicans give to the  
religious, they have only been partly successful in capturing that vote.

Two points to drive this home. First, black Americans are among the  
most religious and socially conservative of all major demographics in  
the US, including coming out on the wrong side of many of those  
political issues you are talking about, whether it is gay rights or  
science policy. They also overwhelmingly affiliate with the  
Democrats.  Second, the states with the least religious populations in  
the US are in fact "red" states, so non-religious that there is no  
statistically plausible way that you do not have vast groups of non- 
religious Republicans.  Counter-intuitively, a western Republican is  
more likely self-identify as being non-religious than an eastern  
Democrat.  This implies at a minimum that if you want sane scientific  
policy based on your assumption that religiousness leads to bad  
science policy, you need a population that cuts a large swath across  
both parties and discards large swaths of both parties.

At the very minimum, this suggests that your model is broken and that  
even if it is correct in some instance the correlation is weak or  
spurious.  Which is why Obama made the right mouth noises on stem  
cells and made the wrong mouth noises on cloning.  It did not make any  
sense as science policy, it was pandering to the religious base of the  
Democrat party.


But allow me destroy my own point and your underlying assumption: most  
non-religious people have idiotic quasi-religious beliefs that  
contravene good science policy. Most people have good science policy  
beliefs by accident, and most non-religious people are as irrational  
as religious people, they just latch onto other things for their  
particular meme of woo.

Two common anti-science beliefs that I see far too often among people  
who self-describe as non-religious: vaccines are evil and nuclear  
power is evil.  They don't have any particular reason, they just  
*know*.  I could come up with a half dozen more without effort.

Religiousness is just a manifestation of a more basic quasi-religious  
characteristic that affects the vast majority of human kind.  That  
characteristic is what is standing in the way of good science policy,  
not religion per se.


> On a practical level,
> without the support of the religious right, Bush would have lost his
> first run so resoundingly that there would not have been the 2000 tie
> breaker, and every research university in the US would have been
> engaged in eager embryonic stem-cell research for the last eight
> years, with federal funding.


We've had anti-science pandering of this sort with every single  
administration in my lifetime.  Bush strongly politicized science one  
way, now Obama is strongly politicizing science another way.  It is  
never good policy, but it is one of the downsides of having  
politicians decide what people ought to be researching from one year  
to the next.

One of the best trends of the last few decades is the relative decline  
of publicly funded basic research.  Note that I said "relative",  
government funding has been roughly flat over the last half century in  
constant dollars.  What *has* happened is that more and more basic  
research is done by private foundations, which have longer time  
horizons than a two-year election cycle and no need to pander to the  
lowest common denominator.

Cheers,

J. Andrew Rogers



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