A response to Stein’s documentary on Intelligent Design

After watching a trailer for Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed trailer, I had a few responses to some of the points he is making. I agree that we should not allow people to bury free inquiry and stifle discussion on established ideas. I also think it’s completely to ask these serious questions about the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. Finally, I think there is a lot of dogma on both sides of the table and no one is left without blame.

However, I find three things wrong with just this movie trailer (beyond the techniques that all documentaries use – cutting people off when they say something that sounds bad out of context, and using negative words like “dumb luck” and ”mud” to describe the other side’s views)

1) Free Speech or Bad Research?
Stein is trying
to frame this as an issue of free speech. It’s ok to say whatever you want, but not every journal will publish you, and not every institution will hire you. I’m sure most newspapers or universities wouldn’t publish/hire you if you said that US national policy should be that all white people face 40% income taxes. This is not a violation of free speech.

2) Are All Nervous Suspects Guilty?
By emphasizing that “Darwinists are afraid”, Stein is trying to suggest that they are hiding something. I think what it means is that many scientists are concerned that since the theory of evolution runs counter to many of our “instinctual” ideas about life – the improbability of life (or as he calls it mud) leading to humanity – that it’s easy for people fall prey to common-sensical and at-first-glance convincing theories of intelligent design.

However, many of our instinctual ideas about other things are also wrong – earth revolves around the sun, humans are 99.9% the same as chimpanzees, centrifigual force does not exist… All these theories have been tested time and time again and shown to be correct. Like evolution.

3) How Established is Evolution Anyway?
Evolution is not something you choose to believe. It’s like saying you believe in gravity. Evolution and gravity are both fact and theory (wikipedia)and both are widely accepted by the scientific community as being true. However only evolution hits home for many religious people and I think that is why there are more people interested in attempting reconciling the two through intelligent design.

In Conclusion
This article is long, and I apologize. This is a topic I’ve been very passionate about since I arrived at Stanford and learned that only 15% of Americans think evolution is true. There is a lot more out there to learn – some stuff will be true, some won’t.

One place I think you can start at is Talk Origins – 29+ Evidence for Macroevolution It’s a bit dense, but the evidence is solid, with lots of links and best of all “Potential for Falsification” (what science is based on) is given for every piece of evidence.

Finally, a cool video that validates Darwin’s prediction of a moth with a 12 in tongue (Herg, I know what you’re thinking you sicko) living in the jungle.

Watson on Genetics and IQ – Is this really that racist? (quote)

“As we find the human genes whose malfunctioning gives rise to such devastating developmental failures schizophrenia and autism, we may well discover that sequence differences within many of them also lead to much of the observable variation in human IQs. A priori, there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so. Rather than face up to facts that will likely change the way we look at ourselves, many persons of goodwill may see only harm in our looking too closely at individual genetic essences.”

Scholarships

Why are you majoring in your chosen field of science, and what are your career goals?I’ve always liked science. As a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologists and dig up Tyrannosaurs bones. Then I wanted to design space ships and work in NASA. Then I wanted to be a scientist and invent new kinds of medicine. I took a lot of science courses in high school, so when I got to college I decided to take different classes. I took a political science course, Chinese and Greek mythology. But in the end I came back to science. In my sophomore year, I declared my major to be the Biological Sciences.

Why biology? I love biology because I love life. And biology is the study of life. Almost everything is related to biology – chemistry, physics, economics, psychology, engineering, even now computer science. There is so much interdisciplinary action happening in biology and its exciting to learn about. I’m well suited to learn biology. I have a great memory. I’m not as much of a problem solver the way chemists, physicists and engineers are, but I have a pretty strong capacity to store knowledge and integrate into understanding of the world.

Many people at my school major in the Biological Sciences to prepare themselves for a career in medicine. Althought my parents would also like me to choose that route, I am not taking it. Nor am I going to climb the ivory tower and become an academic scientist, or even a corporate one. No, I plan to take my biology degree into another field: Philanthropy.

Through my academic journeys I have learned a great deal about how the world is and how it works. And there two things about this world that have struck me very deeply. One is that all of humanity is closely related to one another. There is very little genetically that separates me from a man in India or Spain or Kenya. We are all brothers and sisters.

The second is that there is a great separation in this world between those who have and those who do not. The poverty that ails billions of people across the globe is something I cannot ignore. One statistic that is particularly painful to me – I keep it taped to my wall – every day 29,000 children under the age of 5 die due to malnutrition and preventable diseases. There are few things more painful than losing a child. I have an 8 year old sister and I could not imagine losing her. But over 10 million mothers every year have to face this agony.

I plan to take what I’ve learned in biology to foundations and non-profits that work to make this world a better place. I am incredibly fortunate to be where I am – a student-athlete at a top tier institution. In biology we learn that genetics account for at least 50% of intelligence, and of course I had no choice over who my parents were. And neither did the young girl  in South Africa who was orphaned by her HIV positive mother. What makes her less deserving of a decent life than me?

Beyond philanthropy, there are many issues that struggles that humanity face – energy shortages, global warming, pandemics. I would like to say I did the best I could to ensure the long-term survival and flourishing of humanity. I plan to get a philanthropy fellowship after graduation. Eventually I imagine I would need to get a graduate degree – perhaps in public health or international development.  One of the core precepts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is: to those whom much has been, much is expected. Compared to the billion people who live on a dollar a day, I have been given so much. And I plan to hold up my end of the bargain.

How will a scholarship from StraightForward Media help you achieve your educational and professional goals? 

As a student at Stanford, I am fortunate to take classes with some of the greatest minds, train with some of the greatest athletes, and hang out with some of the greatest friends I’ve ever known. However, all this comes with a great big price tag.
Both my parents work two jobs in order to pay for my schooling without putting me into too much debt. I am a student-athlete who spends over 20 hours a week training, and I have little time or energy for a job. A StraightForward Media scholarship would  help pay for books. Textbook prices have risen even during my time in college and a little money to pay for them would be appreciated. I also sometimes contact people in organizations I would like to work in and ask them to lunch. StraightForward Media scholarship would allow me to pick up the check for more people and better figure out how I can make the best use of my talents and abilities.

The Future of Science in America

This is an article I had originally written for a Seed Magazine science writing competition, but I missed the deadline.  Well, turns out it was almost done.  So I just wrapped it up and I’m putting it out here.

Science is more important in our lives than ever before. We use produces created from scientific discoveries every day. And scientific issues are always in the news. Our economy is driven largely by scientific businesses: biotech, information technology, energy. The rate of scientific development in America, and the world, has rocketed. The last few decades have seen unprecedented numbers of scientific and technological advances, and there is no sign it will be slowing down any time soon.

However, the future also shows some ominous signs. As a leader of scientific innovation, America is seeing great competition from India and China. Their children are more adept in math and science than ours (although that in itself is not difficult to achieve), and they graduate more PhDs in science and engineering than we do. Finally, the future will hold greate challenges, many of them created by the scientific and technological advances of the last century. Climate change, energy shortage, epidemics, terrorism. It is clear that science in all its forms will be critical to America’s future.

It seems to me that many of the troubles the scientific community faces (shortage of money, people, respect) could be solved through a simple, yet startling and possibly controversial idea.

We (the American public) need to treat science more like the military.

Now before you say anything, hear me out. Here’s why science needs to be treated more like the military. Read the first sentence of each of these next paragraphs normally, then read them again and substitute “the military” for “science”.

Serving in the military is akin to serving your country. We have established that science will be critical to America’s future. People need to understand that scientists aren’t simply conducting experiments to answer isoteric questions about the universe, (although some do), but they are doing work that is helping this country grow stronger. Don’t you think that that alone would give scientists much more respect?

You are not in the military forever. Science should also not be seen as a be all end all as a career. Many people have worked years as a scientists and then moved onto other fields: teaching comes to mind, but also business, writing and law or politics. Science should be seen as something that you can dedicate a few years to or a few decades to.

The military gives you skills for life. In the same way, people have to see that working in sciences gives you incredible skills – self-discipline, meticulousness, creativity, the ability to synthesize ideas, work in teams and work under pressure. These skills can translate over to many other fields. Time spent in science is worth spending.

The military can show you the world. Even if you don’t travel anywhere, science can show people a whole new world that is right under their eyes, or in every part of their lives. Science illuminates and reveals the mysteries of the universe.

Do you see where this is going? I think that science needs to be taken more seriously and made more accessible, the way the military is. Now how are we going to do this? My three step program.

1) A massive public awareness campaign. This is going to cost a good amount of money, but I think it is worth it. I’m talking splashy, sexy, bold television spots, celebrity endorsements, billboards, weblogs, bracelets, the whole 9 yards. This is a total change in the perception of science so it needs to really get out there.  The military is pretty good at this.  (Army of One.  Navy – accelerate your life.  The few, the proud, the Marines).

2) A change in the way we train and deploy scientists. This requires coordination between education, government and businesses. I see young people enrolling in a Science Corps boot camp, serving time (maybe a 2 year commitment at a lab on a certain assignment) and they’d be on the way to a PhD.  They could also go down to Reserve, where they could be called to duty for a few weeks out of a year.

3) Get more scientists and Science Corps members into government, so that our country will be lead by people who understand what is going on.  As we have established, science is going to become more advanced and become more interconnected with society.  Policy makers need to have a grip on the issues.  Also, the Science Corps program will fail without having members in government positions.  Think about how many politicians have military backgrounds. With science-educated leaders in place, America will be in a better position to lead the world.  Hopefully in a safe and ethical manner.