One of the ideas that appears in the interview is the significance of Russia’s failure to commercialize science. Graham suggests that not using scientists and engineers adequately may be one reason that Russia has not transitioned to democracy. The interview is interesting, and the many comments are as interesting.
I spent 20 years participating as Director of the AHP-Soviet Exchange Project, and the Global Thinking Project which brought together teachers, students and their parents from Russia and the U.S., and many other countries. As a science educator, I was introduced to a number of Soviet and Russian scientists, engineers, and educators. One of the most remarkable experiences that we had during this period was visiting the town of Pushchino, which is about 75 miles south of Moscow.
Pushchino is a small town about 100 miles south of Moscow on the bank of the Oka River. It was founded in 1962 as home to Pushchino Biological Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Up until about 1993, most the funding for the research centers came from the Russian Academy of Sciences. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the funding from the government radically diminished to about 10% – 15% of what it was. Thus began a program of reaching out to other funding sources not in Russia (Russia Foundation for Fundamental Research), but abroad, and the development of funding proposals to secure financial support. The various research facilities in Pushchino were able to collaborate with U.S. organizations including NATO, the European Environmental Research Organization, US State Department, as well a number of U.S. universities including the University of Tennessee and Washington State University.
We also interacted with many scientists through informal visits to Russian homes, and into the labs of science departments in some universities.
In 1989 I met Dr. Anatoly Zaklebyney, a professor of biology and ecology and a member of the Russian Academy of Education in Moscow. The GTP in Russia was organized by the Russian Academy of Education, and it was through that connection that Anatoly and I met and became close friends. He was one of the most respected ecology and environmental educators in Russia, and had been involved in the development of environmental education teaching materials, as well as in directing environmental science teacher education seminars in the summer in Siberia. It was Anatoly who introduced me to Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, whose ideas influenced the GTP, and our own understanding of the biosphere, geology, and life on the Earth.
One of the most profound books published in the last century, was written by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky. Vernadsky’s ideas didn’t make their way into the west for many years. His original book was in Russian, and a French translation was published in 1929. And it wasn’t until nearly at the end of the 20th Century that his ideas were translated into English.
Interestingly, Vernadsky’s ideas were slowly coming into vogue in Russia at the same time that Gorbachev’s use of the concept perestro?ka (restructuring) took hold in the Soviet Union. Our work in the Soviet Union was propelled by the emergence of perestro?ka, and it aided in our work in Russian schools and in the Russian research institutes that supported us. An atmosphere of change was clear in our meetings with our Russian colleagues.
Vernadsky’s book is entitled The Biosphere (public library, 1927), which is composed of two lectures by the author that describe his conception of the biosphere, and it is the view that is accepted today by science (Jacques Grinevald, from the Introduction of the Biosphere).
The interview with Dr. Graham is important in the context of the increasing turn back to an authoritarian leadership in Moscow, and the deteriorating relationships with the West.
There are millions of people who deny the scientific truth that the Earth is 4.55 Billion years old. They insist that it no more than 10,000 years old. In poll of U.S. adults, 40% did not accept the theory of evolution as a valid explanation for the creation of life on earth. Instead they believe in creation myths, or intelligent design. Many people claim that climate change is a hoax. Others reject the link between HIV and AIDS. Still many others spread fear that vaccinations with harm their children. And there are others who believe the Holocaust did not happen. And, still there are millions who think President Obama’s birth hospital is not in Hawaii.
Jon Huntsman sent a Tweet while running in the Republican Primary for President that many people heard, loud and clear. He Tweeted:
For a Republican running for President, this was like saying he agreed with President Obama. For Hunstman, this was a reflection on his character and courage to go against the grain of his political party. Most Republicans, when asked about the topics I mentioned above (age of earth, evolution, global warming etc.) would NOT accept and trust the work of scientists. In their public appearances, they do their best to spread doubt, claim outright denial of the scientific facts, and reject the methods that scientists use to do science. See this paper by Joshua Rosenau, of the National Center for Science Education.
Why can’t we simply tell these people that they have their facts wrong? Why can’t they just be told the truth? It’s not that simple as we will see ahead in this post.
The Effect of Correction on “Truth”
In a study that I reported on here, entitled When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions, Brendan Nyhan, University of Michigan, and Jason Reifler, Georgia State University suggest that beliefs about controversial factual questions are closely linked to one’s ideological preferences or partisan beliefs. The study is important at several levels. For those of us who are teachers, their study might be disheartening. Even after providing “corrective” information on a contemporary problem, subjects in their study didn’t necessarily change their views, opinions or concepts. In some cases it hardened their belief. For those who are trying to figure out why so many people deny the facts of science, as well as historical and current events, read on.
In their study, three hypotheses were investigated about how the effectiveness of corrections will vary by participant ideology (liberal, centrist, conservative):
Hypothesis 1: An ideological interaction
The effect of corrections on misperceptions will be moderated by ideology. Hypothesis 2a: Resistance to corrections
Corrections will fail to reduce misperceptions among the ideological subgroup that is likely to hold the misperception. Hypothesis 2b: Correction backfire
In some cases, the interaction between corrections and ideology will be so strong that misperceptions will increase for the ideological subgroup in question.
The researchers investigated three areas from contemporary politics: the war in Iraq, tax cuts, and stem cell research). This brought more realism to the study and not using hypothetical situations and questions. The war in Iraq focused on the risk associated with Saddam Hussein passing weapons or materials or information to terrorist networks. Subjects read a news article that included remarks made by President George Bush that defended the Iraq war, and that there was a real risk that Saddam would pass on weapons or information. Some respondents were given correction which discusses the Duelfer Report, which documents the lack of Iraqi WMD or active production program prior to the U.S. invasion.
After reading the article, respondents were asked to state whether they agreed (on a five-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” (1) to “strongly agree” (5) with the following statement:
Immediately before the U.S. invasion, Iraq had an active weapons of mass destruction program, the ability to produce these weapons, and large stockpiles of WMD, but Saddam Hussein was able to hide or destroy these weapons right before U.S. forces arrived.
In this 2005 experiment, the results supported the “backfire” hypothesis. For very liberal subjects, the corrective information made them more likely to disagree that Iraq had WMD. For liberal and centrist people, the corrective information had little effect. But for those that were to the right of center (ideologically conservative), the correction backfired—that is conservatives who received the corrective information that Iraq did not have WMD were more likely to believe that Iraq had WMD. One explanation was that conservatives tended to believe Bush and not the media, thus resulting in the backfire effect.
The researchers conclude that their study seems to support the idea that citizens engage in motivated reasoning. Their studies support the notion that using corrections on factual beliefs shows that responses to the corrections about controversial issues vary systematically by ideology.
As the researchers point out, their study did support the hypothesis that conservatives are especially dogmatic, but they also pointed out that liberals and Democrats also interpret factual information in ways that are consistent with their political world views.
This important study reveals that conservatives are more dogmatic than others, but we all “filter” information to fit our particular views. But this does not explain the outright denialism that is rampant in the right-wing of the Republican Party and the Tea Party.
The Republican Brain
For decades empirically based scientific theories and ideas have been deliberately denied by primarily conservative males. A reality exists that science writer, Chris Mooney explains in his book The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality. One of the characteristics of the Republican Brain, according to Mooney, is how the science of denial has become a political force in affecting the minds of many people, especially the media on significant science related social and economic issues of the day.
The field is very young, according to Mooney, but scientists are already showing that average “liberal” and “conservative” brains differ in suggestive ways.
Mooney shows us in his research that the science of denialism is practiced by more Republican and Tea Party members than not, to the bewilderment the rest of us. He is helpful in putting this in perspective on two issues, global warming and evolution. He writes:
In a nationally representative survey released just as I was finishing this book—many prior surveys have found similar things—only 18 percent of Republicans and Tea Party members accepted the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by humans, and only 45 and 43 percent accepted human evolution.
In other words, political conservatives have placed themselves in direct conflict with modern scientific knowledge, which shows beyond serious question that global warming is real and caused by humans, and evolution is real and the cause of humans. If you don’t accept either claim, you cannot possibly understand the world or our place in it.
The lies, distortions, and the denials that we see and hear everyday by conservative politicians , right-wing talk show hosts, Fox News, and right-wing editorials, as Mooney says, “drive us crazy.” In the midst of this babel of unreason has emerged an ideology in which one systematically reacts by refusing reality and truth (Didier, F., 2007). Some of the babel includes statements about global warming from Senator James Inhofe: “the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people, after the separation of church and state,” or better still, Representative Paul Broun’s (Georgia) opinion that “All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell” (from a published talk he gave at a church in Georgia).
As I indicated in the first section, “convictions,” especially involving feelings and attitudes, are difficult to change. Teachers who embrace the learning science of constructivism know this. Initial ideas or prior conceptions that students hold about ideas in math, science, social studies, literature are not changed directly, but require an environment of open inquiry and discussion, and the movement on the part of the learner that they want to learn something new or they are willing to consider ideas different from their own. This is not an easy matter. As teachers we bang our heads against the wall trying to come with novel ways to engage our students so that they have a chance in the game of school.
Now, I want you to think about adults who would look you in the face and deny facts presented that support the theory of global warming and its effect on climate change. Some of them will try and dredge up one of the few scientists (typically ones who have not done research in the area of global warming), and say, “See, here’s a scientist who does not believe in global warming. Even scientists can’t agree. The science is not settled on global warming. We need to hold off doing anything until all the facts are in.” Or something like that. You get the idea.
Even with evidence that global warming effects are getting worse as reported in a New Scientist, climate change article, deniers are teaming up to fight efforts to increase funding for renewable energy sources and projects. Increasing renewable energy project and research is one way of reducing global warming. According to an article on Climate Progress, the Heartland Institute (climate change denier organization) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (a right-wing group of nay-sayers made up of Republican representatives) are teaming up to kill clean energy projects.
At the individual level, its the brain, as Mooney suggests, that determines our actions. Mooney, citing modern neuroscience research, tells us that “thinking and reasoning are actually suffused with emotion or affect.” Indeed, many of our reactions to stimuli and information are not reflective, but emotional and automatic, and set in motion prior to conscious thought. When people who have been harboring the idea that global warming is a hoax are presented with facts and research results that show how global warming is affecting, say glaciers, the denier simply goes into automatic and selectively looks at the information, or questions it, or the authors. No facts, no evidence will change the denier. However, Nyhan and Reifler found that “corrective” information (facts) produced a “backfire” effect for ideologically conservative people. That is, the new information tended to make them deny the idea even more.
Although we can’t blame the Republican brain for all of these denials, the pattern of denial is there. The pesticide, and tobacco industries poured millions of dollars into campaigns to disgrace and besmirch the research by scientists to further their own interests. Right wing groups, to be sure, were involved in these actions. Fundamentalists groups clearly played a role in the AIDS/HIV and vaccination denials.
In an article, Science denial: A Guide for Scientists, Joshua Rosenau suggests that its important to find out what are the underlying reasons for people denying scientific findings and theories. He writes that:
Although science denial claims often seem absurd to scientists in relevant fields, they make sense when viewed from an insider’s perspective. For example, creationist journals run their own version of peer review, but require identity of a social group.
As Mooney points, we are not giving the snake eye to those who honestly lack information, but we must push back against those who run campaigns of misinformation.
If you listen to right-wing talk radio, or Fox News, especially after the election, the distortions and misinformation continues. The Republican brain is active and alive. All you have to do is switch on your radio, read Tweets from Bortz, Limbaugh, or Hannity, or watch Fox News.
Blue and Red Morality
In my view, the most relevant theoretical explanation for Mooney’s assertion that the Republican brain (read conservative) is different from the brains of progressives and liberals is the work of George Lakoff.
According to research by George Lakoff and the Rockbridge Institute, the moral world-view of either conservatives or progressives can be understood by using the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family. Using this idea, ones political beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founding fathers, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here). In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth. The diagram below shows the organization of schooling according to a conservative world-view.
The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
The father is the head of the house
The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
Children are weak and lack self-control
Parents know what is best
Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
When children become self-discipline, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.
This list of characteristics helps us understand a conservative family’s world-view. As we look around us, and especially when we look at schooling today, we see the influence of the conservative world-view. Indeed, the fundamental values of the conservative world-view shape most aspects of public schools today.
Authority: assumed to be morally good and used to exert legitimate control (it is imperative that authority is never questioned)
Discipline: self-control learned through punishment when one does wrong (it is understood that failure of authority to punish for wrong doing is a moral failure)
The right-wing babel on any issue (global warming, evolution, school choice, AIDS/HIV, contraception, etc.) can be understood by using Lakoff’s concept of cascading, a kind of sorting that goes on in the brain. Look at this diagram from Lakoff. When the brain is activated by any issue, ones response is related to frames and values higher up in the hierarchy.
Understanding the babel from the right (and the left) requires a deeper understanding of the brain. Lakoff has developed a model that we think is powerful.
We end with a quote from Lakoff and Wehling.
All politics is moral.
Please refer to: Lakoff, George; Wehling, Elisabeth (2012-06-19). The Little Blue Book (p. 13). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Didier Fassin, When bodies remember: experiences and politics of AIDS in South Africa, Volume 15 of California series in public, University of California Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-520-25027-7. p. 115
What do think about the concept of a Republican brain? Do you think that we can use the work of Mooney and Lakoff to understand the babel that permeates the discussion of important issues?
In the aftermath of hurricane-cyclonic storm Sandy’s fury, this debate will raise questions about why the Presidential campaigns have been silent on global warming and the predictions that climate scientists have made about extreme weather phenomena such as superstorms, such as Sandy, infernos experienced last summer in Colorado, major droughts, and extreme flooding.
If you cannot be present for livestreamVigo over to sciencedebate.org anytime after the 11:AM debate.
The Presidential candidates have responded to Science Debate’s 14 questions on science and education. You can read and compare their answers at this Scientific American website. Scientific American will grade the candidate’s answers, and publish the results in October. Obama and Romney were asked questions about innovation and the economy, climate change, pandemics, energy, food, water, the Internet, the oceans, science in public policy, space, natural resources, public health, and science & mathematics education.
The answers are disappointing. In many instances, the question was not answered. Instead, party talking-points about the topic (education, climate change, energy) were spelled out. This was especially true for Romney’s answers. Obama at least provided some specifics on what has been done, and what plans are underway.
Science Debate created a forum to explore significant science issues in the presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Are the candidates qualified to discuss these issues? As Shawn Otto (co-founder of Science Debate) puts it, Obama and Romney spend a lot of time talking about the economy, yet neither is an economist. They express opinions on foreign policy, yet neither is a diplomat. They should be able to discuss science and how it impacts people and society, even though neither is a scientist. They should be able to talk about education, even though neither holds a teaching license.
Having the candidates submit written answers to important policy decisions does not substitute for a real debate. There is no opportunity for a follow-up, or to really hear from the candidates directly.
Education for Job Training and Economic Growth
The education question revealed that both parties think that education is in deep trouble, and that if America is to survive, education should be in the service of corporate interests by providing workers for 21st century jobs who will contribute to the economy. Schools exist to transmit knowledge directly to students defined by common sets of standards. Students are in school to absorb knowledge, and to get ready for tests that are given each spring. Using simple metrics, students, teachers and schools are held accountable. Passing or failing students, ridding the school of “bad” teachers, and closing down “failing” schools has become an annual right of passage for American schools.
In the question that follows, the candidates were asked what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy?
In each answer that follows, President Obama and Governor Romney sidestep the question. Obama suggests we need lots more science teachers. As others have suggested, it might be better to try and keep the teachers we have in the schools. As it is now, the teaching profession is composed of an increasing percentage of inexperienced teachers. This is not in the interests of parents and schools. Romney hasn’t a new idea in education. Romney says we should turn the public schools into a market-place for profit-making charter schools, reinforce the standards-based and testing mentality of schooling, and make sure we get rid of those bad teachers.
What would your answer be to the education question seen below? What would you say to Obama and to Romney about their individual answers?
Science Debate Education Question
The Education Question.Increasingly, the global economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and math, but a recent comparison of 15-year-olds in 65 countries found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 23rd, while average U.S. math scores ranked 31st. In your view, why have American students fallen behind over the last three decades, and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy?
The Candidate’s Education Answers
An excellent education remains the clearest, surest route to the middle class. To compete with other countries we must strengthen STEM education. Early in my administration, I called for a national effort to move American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement.Last year, I announced an ambitious goal of preparing 100,000 additional STEM teachers over the next decade, with growing philanthropic and private sector support. My “Educate to Innovate” campaign is bringing together leading businesses, foundations, non-profits, and professional societies to improve STEM teaching and learning. Recently, I outlined a plan to launch a new national STEM Master Teacher Corps that will be established in 100 sites across the country and be expanded over the next four years to support 10,000 of the best STEM teachers in the nation. These investments would improve the quality of STEM education at all levels, ensuring the next generation of Americans has the tools to out-innovate and out-compete the rest of the world.
The education challenges America faces are not new. Since A Nation at Riskwas published almost thirty years ago, our country has understood the urgent need for reform. Yet today, fewer than 75 percent of freshmen graduate within four years of entering high school, and far too many who do graduate require remediation when they enroll in college. In a recent survey of more than 10,000 of its graduates, the Harvard Business School identified America’s K-12 education system as one of our nation’s greatest competitive weaknesses — only the dysfunction of our political system itself scored worse. Recent test results showing U.S. students lagging behind their international peers are unacceptable in their own right, and a sobering warning of a potential decline threatening our nation’s future.Politicians have attempted to solve these problems with more spending. But while America’s spending per student is among the highest in the world, our results lag far behind. We spend nearly two-and-a-half times as much per pupil today, in real terms, as in 1970, but high school achievement and graduation rates have stagnated. Higher spending rarely correlates with better results. Even the liberal Center for American Progress acknowledged in a recent study that “the literature strongly calls into question the notion that simply investing more money in schools will result in better outcomes,” and reported from its own research that most states showed “no clear relationship between spending and achievement” even after adjusting for other factors like the cost of living.Unfortunately, rather than embracing reform and innovation, America remains gridlocked in an antiquated system controlled to a disturbing degree by the unions representing teachers. The teachers unions spend millions of dollars to influence the debate in favor of the entrenched interests of adults, not the students our system should serve. The efforts of teachers will be central to any successful reform, but their unions have a very different agenda: opposing innovation that might disrupt the status quo while insulating even the least effective teachers from accountability. Sadly, these priorities do not correlate with better outcomes for our children. To the contrary, teachers unions are consistently on the front lines fighting against initiatives to attract and retain the best teachers, measure performance, provide accountability, or offer choices to parents.Real change will come only when the special interests take a back seat to the interests of students. Across the nation, glimmers of success offer reason for hope. Charter school networks such as the KIPP Academies, Uncommon Schools, and Aspire Public Schools are producing remarkable results with students in some of our nation’s most disadvantaged communities. Florida Virtual School and other digital education providers are using technology in new ways to personalize instruction to meet students’ needs. In Massachusetts, whose schools have led the nation since my time as governor, students’ math achievement is comparable to that of the top-performing national school systems worldwide. In our nation’s capital, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has achieved high school graduation rates above 90 percent in inner-city communities where barely half of public school students are earning their diplomas. These successes point the way toward genuine reform.
My agenda for K-12 education is organized around the following principles:
Promoting Choice and Innovation. Empowering parents with far greater choice over the school their child attends is a vital component of any national agenda for education reform. To start, low-income and special-needs children must be given the freedom to choose the right school and bring funding with them. These students must have access to attractive options, which will require support for the expansion of successful charter schools and for greater technology use by schools.
Ensuring High Standards and Responsibility for Results. States must have in place standards to ensure that every high school graduate is prepared for college or work and, through annual testing, hold both students and educators accountable for meeting them. The results of this testing, for both their own children and their schools, must be readily available to parents in an easy to understand format.
Recruiting and Rewarding Great Teachers. A world-class education system requires world-class teachers in every classroom. Research confirms that students assigned to more effective teachers not only learn more, but they also are also less likely to have a child as a teenager and more likely to attend college. Policies for recruitment, evaluation, and compensation should treat teachers like the professionals they are, not like interchangeable widgets.
David Gergen, Michael Lubell and Shawn Otto had a very important conversation with Ira Flatow on this week’s Science Friday about why the science debate project is critical to the country. The discussion focused on science in the presidential debates, and looked at why asking the candidates about science is so low on the list of priorities.
David Gergen wonders why science is put in the back seat, especially at the White House. As Gergen points out, we have leading scientist in the White House , Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, but we never see him. Although President Obama has hosted an annual White House Science Fair, there isn’t a proactive discussion of science policy. Gergen asks why the White House hasn’t featured him on TV and on Sunday morning shows. As he points out, the public does have an appetite for science, and curiosity.
People are interested in science, but science is not really part of the national dialog. Gergen suggests that we need leadership from the President, and from scientists, and science organizations to make science part on national dialog.
Shawn Otto believes leadership takes vision, and perhaps Science Debate is on the right track. Using surveys and polls of the public, and encouraging politicians to talk about science is an important step to take. Scientists and science educators need to be political, be willing to discuss and debate science publicly.