Thursday, November 03, 2005

Prometheus Unbound!

One of the many advantages to blogging under a pseudonym is that it allows me - for a few moments - to shrug off the yoke of "political correctness" that I must wear during my work day. Modern academia is a paradise of intellectual freedom (or so I am told) - but we must have a few simple rules to keep everybody "safe".

In a previous position, we had a saying, "The large print giveth and the small print taketh away." Political correctness, under the guise of "diversity", "tolerance" and "preventing hurtful speech", is the small print. A few examples:

Diversity: We are told (and I generally agree) that we should be respectful of (i.e. not be prejudicial based on) the differences between us all. Modern academia has taken this noble idea and extended it to its logical (or absurd) extreme. Not only are we to not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, or sexual preference, we can no longer discriminate based on ability or performance.

Tolerance: We are commanded to be tolerant of other points of view - excepting of course that we are intolerant of points of view that don't support tolerance and diversity. And we are allowed to be intolerant of speech that "harms" other people. "We don't tolerate that sort of thing", I was told. How, exactly, speech "harms" someone is left rather vague and open to (post hoc) interpretation. Apparently, telling a student that their interpretation of evolution is "wrong" (i.e. is not in agreement with the current concensus view) is "harmful". I suppose that marking an examination answer as "incorrect" would also be "harmful".

This past October, for me, was a very stupid month. And November isn't shaping up to be much better, so far. By "stupid", I mean no disparagement of the month itself or of the weather. What I mean is that during October - and the first few days of November - I have been bombarded by stupidity from a variety of sources (not the least of which has been the blogosphere).

I suppose the serious stupidity (i.e. stupidity above the normal background level) started when a student in the virology class announced that HIV (the virus that causes the disease AIDS) didn't cause AIDS - that AIDS was the result of "poor life choices" combined with the debilitating effects of anti-retroviral drugs. He based this startling assertion on his experience as a hospital orderly handing out medication to AIDS patients. This was one of the few times in my teaching career that I was so daunted by the sheer magnitude of willful ignorance that I was unsure where - or if - to begin.

This experience was augmented by the annual start-of-term "Loonies on the Lawn" program (not sponsored by the University) where we were bombarded on a daily basis by Creationists ("old earth" variety), "Intelligent Design" promoters, and a generic mix of "Repent Now!" auditory evangelists.

Following close on the heels of all that, there was a student in the evolution class who announced (why must they always make public pronouncements?) in class the he did not believe in evolution (thereby begging the question of why he had registered for the class) and would challenge everything that contradicted his firm belief in "Intelligent Design". Let's just say that the term doesn't look too promising for him.

Of course, I must take some responsibility for the dismal nature of the last month (after all, I made the decision to pursue the career I am in). When the lad in evolution class asked how I would refute "Intelligent Design", I responded thusly:

[1] "Intelligent Design" is not a hypothesis, since it makes no testable predictions.

[2] Even if "Intelligent Design" supporters could somehow "prove" that evolution was wrong, it would not make "Intelligent Design" "right".

[3] "Intelligent Design" is not good science - it is not even bad science - it is religion dressed up in a lab coat pretending to be science in order to have a particular religious viewpoint taught in public schools.

Point number three earned me a round of applause from the class (with one notable abstention) and a note from the department chairman inviting me to drop by for a cup of tea and some conversation.

Finally, the blogosphere has been humming with people who think they understand science but who are simply parroting what the pseudoscientists have told them. In all fairness and scientific candor, it may be that I am noticing this more since I have been out-of-sorts lately.

Still, I tire of the seemingly endless numbers of scientist wannabe's who think that reading "Evidence of Harm" or other such drivel can put them on par with people who actually know something about the subject. I have nothing against ignorance - there is no shame in being ignorant (no great honor, either), since we are all ignorant about something.

However, the willful, agressive strain of ignorance that I see surrounding certain pseudo-scientific issues (e.g. evolution, autism-mercury, etc.) is mind-boggling. Many of these people are so misinformed and yet they resist all efforts to point out their errors. They don't trust anybody except the people who already agree with them. It's like watching a tour group trying to navigate through Rome with a map of London.

Well, I must be off to try and not overly offend the young minds entrusted to my care. 'Til next time...


Prometheus.

12 Comments:

Blogger Axiom said...

And what did the chairman have to say about the profound insubordination exhibited by said student? The comment in question sounds very much like "I intend to disrupt the teaching and learning going on in this class to the full extent of my ability." This is entirely the opposite of a student politely informing you that s/he believes in something other than evolution and that it's going to take some convincing.

If that student didn't want to be publicly disciplined, that student should not have been publicly rude.

Carry on and remember that you have tenure for a reason (if you have tenure, of course; if not, eh, it's still the right thing).

I'd love to teach again full-time but, sadly, industry experience post-Ph.D. does not translate into stacks of offers for faculty positions.... ;-)

03 November, 2005 11:02  
Blogger John said...

Bravo Prometheus! You are brave indeed. Still, have sympathy on these youngsters. They will grow old and wise and beaten down, and one day recall in horror the follies of youth. So even as you must by necessity crush them, you might point out that you symathize with their future repentance.

03 November, 2005 12:19  
Anonymous E-Phunk said...

Take heart in the knowledge that the situation is hopeless. Let go of hope and your soul will fly freely like a sparrow shooting across the heavens into the arms of God. You can't argue with these people. It's pointless. The whole concept of a reasoned argument is senseless in the context of a discussion with a PC or ID zealot. Their world view is based on FAITH, not reason. They don't believe in things like drawing a conclusion based on evidence. They start with the conclusion and procede from there. I hope next month is less stupid.

03 November, 2005 14:20  
Blogger Francois Tremblay said...

Call me paranoid, but I don't trust people who don't post under their names. To me, it's a matter of standing behind what you say. I stand behind everything I say 100%.

04 November, 2005 01:45  
Blogger Autism Diva said...

Fracois, if that IS your real name... ;-)

If you bother to say things to people who act mentally ill and who absolutely can not be reasoned with and who have been known to have members who make death threats... because they feel entitled to do so ... then it is wise to use a pseudonym.

If you are just going to attack, in writing, the US government or Sushi chefs or the weather man for being so wrong...you aren't likely to get death threats in return, certainly not from the US government or one of it's agencies like the CDC (I don't know about the CIA...)

On the other hand, if you take a stand against the thimersoal-autism crowd, you may very well get e-mailed/Internet death threats, and real world harassment, such as phone calls to your home. Time will tell if it escalates beyond that.

Autism Diva doesn't know what you blog about, but she has to assume that it's not anything so heated as to get you a death threat or two.

Lots of people know who Autism Diva is, she left a trail of bread crumbs so that people could find out if they wanted to bad enough. Autism Diva has been harassed and vilified and libelled under her real name by people who don't agree, or who have been paid to write libel, maybe... who knows? There's a lot of money at stake here and we don't know what the personal injury lawyers are willing to stoop to, apart from the regular psychos.

There are sincere and hideously, heinously misinformed people who disagree with Autism Diva who aren't going to make death threats or insinuated threats of harm, but they are wrong. Their stance is contributing to real world harm done to real people but the misinformed are all wrapped up in their "we-know-what-the-feds-are-up-to holiness" and feel justified.

Combatting that harm is what makes it worthwhile for some to stick their necks out and point out the rather vast ignorance of the "Evidence of Harm" crowd, for example. Still, we'd rather not be maimed or worse for our efforts and so we use pseudonyms to make it harder for the freakos to get at us.

On the other hand, Prometheus and others are probably not going to be threatened with physical harm by the ID folks and creationists. They might say that "god will get" him or say he's going to burn in Hell, which is probably not going to make Prometheus lose any sleep, still he has a career to think about.

----

Sorry you've had such a lousy October and early November, Prometheus. The student with the alternative AIDS view and the ID kid are out of line, totally, and the department chairman shouldn't have tried to correct you for what you said.

Tell the truth, did you have a strong desire to go somewhere private and bang your head on a wall? Or is Autism Diva just projecting here?

:-)

04 November, 2005 09:07  
Blogger Autism Diva said...

Fracois, if that IS your real name... ;-)

If you bother to say things to people who act mentally ill and who absolutely can not be reasoned with and who have been known to have members who make death threats... because they feel entitled to do so ... then it is wise to use a pseudonym.

If you are just going to attack, in writing, the US government or Sushi chefs or the weather man for being so wrong...you aren't likely to get death threats in return, certainly not from the US government or one of it's agencies like the CDC (I don't know about the CIA...)

On the other hand, if you take a stand against the thimersoal-autism crowd, you may very well get e-mailed/Internet death threats, and real world harassment, such as phone calls to your home. Time will tell if it escalates beyond that.

Autism Diva doesn't know what you blog about, but she has to assume that it's not anything so heated as to get you a death threat or two.

Lots of people know who Autism Diva is, she left a trail of bread crumbs so that people could find out if they wanted to bad enough. Autism Diva has been harassed and vilified and libelled under her real name by people who don't agree, or who have been paid to write libel, maybe... who knows? There's a lot of money at stake here and we don't know what the personal injury lawyers are willing to stoop to, apart from the regular psychos.

There are sincere and hideously, heinously misinformed people who disagree with Autism Diva who aren't going to make death threats or insinuated threats of harm, but they are wrong. Their stance is contributing to real world harm done to real people but the misinformed are all wrapped up in their "we-know-what-the-feds-are-up-to holiness" and feel justified.

Combatting that harm is what makes it worthwhile for some to stick their necks out and point out the rather vast ignorance of the "Evidence of Harm" crowd, for example. Still, we'd rather not be maimed or worse for our efforts and so we use pseudonyms to make it harder for the freakos to get at us.

On the other hand, Prometheus and others are probably not going to be threatened with physical harm by the ID folks and creationists. They might say that "god will get" him or say he's going to burn in Hell, which is probably not going to make Prometheus lose any sleep, still he has a career to think about.

----

Sorry you've had such a lousy October and early November, Prometheus. The student with the alternative AIDS view and the ID kid are out of line, totally, and the department chairman shouldn't have tried to correct you for what you said.

Tell the truth, did you have a strong desire to go somewhere private and bang your head on a wall? Or is Autism Diva just projecting here?

:-)

04 November, 2005 09:08  
Blogger Clark Bartram said...

One of my colleagues, a fellow pediatrician and an old earth creationist, recently tried to "inform" me of how dinosaur and man footprints have been found together. I explained to her the reality of the situation and she accepted that her stance, just on the footprints mind you, was in error. She still thinks the earth is roughly 10,000 years old but nevertheless it gives me a glimmer of hope. Maybe some people just need an inspired teacher to lead them to rational thought.

www.theclayexperience.blogspot.com

04 November, 2005 19:43  
Blogger Prometheus said...

To Mr. Tremblay,

I don't recall asking you - or anyone else to trust me. Read what I write and make of it what you will. I don't ask for trust.

And despite my decision to blog anonymously, I also stand behind what I say 100%. I simply have decided that I do not want to be a target for the sophomoric pranks and "revenge" of people who are upset when their pet hypotheses are questioned.

To the Autism Diva and others who were concerned about my talk with the department chairman, my thanks for your concern. My discussion with the chairman was more in the nature of "try to be a little more careful" than any species of "ass chewing". The chairman sympathizes with my point of view, but is at the mercy of a rather invertebrate University adminstration.


Prometheus

05 November, 2005 18:13  
Anonymous HCN said...

All Prometheus needs to expose his real self is tenure! That is what protects Duesberg (unfortunately, because some of his views have killed some HIV+ folks, including a little girl earlier this year) and Behe (who has made himself a fool at the Dover trial on evolution).

I've done the bit with my real actual name. I have receive more than enough nasty grams from those on a speech disability listserv when I countered the "Mercury Moms". One of them even tried to get me removed from the listserv when I just tried clarify that the MMR (used in the USA since 1971) never contained thimerosal.

It is scary when these guys freak out the folks at Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal! See:
http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110004700

Then there are incidents where people are targeted for their views:
http://neurodiversity.com/weblog/article/15/st-paul-saga

Do you have a way to guarantee our safety and privacy if we reveal our real selves? Or even protect our children as they go to school?

I live in a city with a large contigent of anti-vaxers (there has been on outbreak of measles in a private school fairly recently). My oldest son had neo-natal seizures and could NOT be vaccinated against pertussis with the then used DTP during a time that there was a pertussis EPIDIMIC! (now you know the roots of my disdain for those who do not vaccinate without a good MEDICAL reason). In this county live some of the more strident anti-vax folks and DAN! doctors. How do you guarantee my safety if I reveal my identity?

And why would you care?

06 November, 2005 21:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least some people I have met recognize that saying "I hate anyone who is a bigot" and "I hate Christians" are essentially similar statements.

Sounds like your administratino isn't a great place. One bio teacher who I recall reading some years back requires ALL students for whom he writes a reference to sign a statement of support for evolutionary theroy first. His concept was that a student who could not accept it after years of study had not shown themselves capable of scientific logic, and was therefore undeserving of reference. I thought this was an interesting and effective practice.

08 November, 2005 09:48  
Blogger cube said...

The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. Despite the infinite amount out there to learn, however, one must never stop trying to gather as much knowledge as we can.

The beauty of science is that it is constantly being updated as better & more informed facts come in. It shouldn't involve opinion and should never be politicized.

17 November, 2005 08:53  
Blogger Michael said...

Congratulations on having such a stimulating and fantastic blog. I have only recently discovered you on the web and it makes for some highly enjoyable reading. It is refreshing to come across a blog that has truly intellegent points of view.

If you read the "about me" text in my own blog vitualis' Medical Rants, it forms a humorous juxtaposition against your own.

Best of luck and please continue to post your insights on the net!

23 November, 2005 05:09  

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