Religion and science knowlege

So, I’ve been doing a little bit of research on scientific literacy for my current research on GMO foods.  I came across this really interesting paper which basically shows that the more religious you are, the less you know about science.  Importantly, that’s with about all the controls you would want (i.e., you can’t really prove causation, but this is not some spurious relationship).  Here’s the abstract:


This study examines how commitment to sectarian Protestant religious groups and fundamentalist beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible influence basic scientific literacy.


I analyze data from the 2006 General Social Survey (N = 1,780), which included a 13-point examination of scientific facts and reasoning. Ordinary least squares regression models are estimated to determine the impact of religious affiliations and beliefs net of other control variables such as race, gender, education, income, region, and rural residence.


Analyses show that sectarian Protestants, Catholics, and people with fundamentalist beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible have significantly lower levels of scientific literacy when compared with secular Americans. Religious differences are identifiable in multivariate analyses controlling for other demographic factors. [emphasis mine]


Religion plays a sizeable role in the low levels of scientific literacy found in the United States, and the negative impact of religious factors is more substantial than gender, race, or income.

And the key table:



Okay, I’ll admit that I’m bummed that Catholic is a significant predictor, but at least it’s smaller than Protestant.  And it’s clear that fundamentalist views (i.e., “bible is the literal word of God”) are no friend to scientific literacy.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s photos of the week:

A huge flock of starlings congregate in front of the West Pier during sunset in Brighton on Saturday evening

A huge flock of starlings congregate in front of the West Pier during sunset in Brighton on Saturday eveningPicture: Max Langran/APEX NEWS & PICTURES

Higher education as we know it is doomed

Or, so says Kevin Carey.  I listened to a Fresh Air interview with him recently, but was not persuaded.   I’m not impressed that he took the same MIT course as MIT students (via MOOC) and got some shiny certificate.  Now, when MIT gives him credit as if he were an MIT student taking an MIT class, that’s different.  And we’re nowhere near that.  He does, however, address this issue in a recent Upshot post:

The failure of MOOCs to disrupt higher education has nothing to do with the quality of the courses themselves, many of which are quite good and getting better. Colleges are holding technology at bay because the only thing MOOCs provide is access to world-class professors at an unbeatable price. What they don’t offer are official college degrees, the kind that can get you a job. And that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for. [emphasis mine]

Now information technology is poised to transform college degrees. When that happens, the economic foundations beneath the academy will truly begin to tremble.


Free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs. Now technological innovators are working on that, too.

Traditional institutions, including Michigan State and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, are experimenting with issuing badges. But so are organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 4-H, the Smithsonian, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Y.M.C.A. of Greater New York.

The most important thing about badges is that they aren’t limited to what people learn in college. Nor are they controlled by colleges exclusively. People learn throughout their lives, at work, at home, in church, among their communities. The fact that colleges currently have a near-monopoly on degrees that lead to jobs goes a long way toward explaining how they can continue raising prices every year.

Badges?!  NC State is going to fall apart due to competition from badges?  Now, I’m quite sure technological innovation will bring about some serious changes to how universities work in the future, but I’m sorry, there’s just no replacing what a college degree represents (a lot more than just a particular set of knowledge!) with skill/knowledge certification badges.

Map of the day

Vox has a really cool 40 maps that explain the Solar System feature (a couple of which I posted before).  Here’s a new cool one I had not seen:

The moon is surprisingly far away from Earth

Compared with the overall vastness of space, the moon is very close to us: it’s just 238,900 or so miles away. But compared with our daily experience, absolutely everything in space is really, really far apart. In the gap between us and the moon, you could neatly slide in all seven of the other planets, with a bit of room to spare. That includes Saturn and Jupiter, which are about 9 and 11 times as wide as Earth, respectively.


What America means

I had noticed that Obama’s Selma speech got rave reviews, but as I’m not much one for political speeches, I had not paid all that much attention.  Then I saw James Fallows’ write-up on it and realized I need to.  I still haven’t watched it yet, but I will (and probably have David with me when I do so), but damn, do I sure love the sentiments that Fallows‘ loves and inspired him to write the post:

I thought this was a very good job, in written presentation and in delivery, as far as I can judge via YouTube. But for me that takes second place to my overwhelming reaction of gratitude: for once, a public figure expressing exactlyhow I feel…

These are the parts of Obama’s speech that rang truest to me, after spending much of my life thinking about the country from afar, with emphasis added:

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place? …

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this,what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?


The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny….

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.  That’s America.

That’s what makes us unique.

Wow.  Great stuff indeed.  And I have to agree with Fallows how wonderful it is to hear a politician express exactly how I feel.  Fallows concludes:

And near the end:

That’s what America is.  Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others.

We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past.  We don’t fear the future; we grab for it.  America is not some fragile thing.  We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes.  We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit.

The political tribalism of this moment means that Democrats are mostly welcoming today’s speech, and Republicans and Fox News mostly condemning it. But these days Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted respectfully even at right-wing gatherings. When the political passions of our time have passed, people of all parties will quote this speech as expressing an essence of our American creed.

I hope Fallows is right.  This is certainly what the American creed deserves to be.  I do fear, though, that for all to many, it is “America, love it or leave it.”  One of the reasons I am proud to be a liberal is because in many ways, I think in essence it comes down to, damnit, we can do better!  I wish that were not an ideological thing, but all too often (turn on Fox News sometime) it clearly is.

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