Social Scientists Study The Controversy

We occasionally digress to bring you exciting news from the field of social science — for example Great Moments in Social Science (comparing the intimate relationships of obese and non-obese girls), and before that Further Adventures in Social Science (on the relationship of race and class inequality and police force size), and before that .Another Brief Taste of Social Science (a voter’s race can affect his vote for President), and before that .A Brief Taste of Social Science (perplexity about why successful societies aren’t egalitarian).

We found another great example today, and it’s actually related to The Controversy between evolution and creationism. It’s a news item at the Rice University webstie: Lawmakers might introduce ‘anti-evolution’ legislation to appease religious constituents, researchers theorize. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

New research from Rice University and West Virginia University theorizes that “anti-evolution” education legislation continues to be introduced because lawmakers want to appease religious constituents, not because they expect the bills to be made into laws.

They want to appease religious constituents? Wow — we never would have thought of that! We’re told:

David Johnson, a postdoctoral research associate with Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program and the lead author of “Conservative Protestantism and Anti-Evolution Curricular Challenges Across States,” studied the relationship between religious characteristics of states and anti-evolution bills passing through state education committees across the country. A key goal of the study was to understand how creationist interest groups, science interest groups, public opinion about evolution and political climate influence the political-reform process related to how evolution is taught in schools.

What did he learn? Let’s read on:

Johnson and co-authors Christopher Scheitle and Elaine Howard Ecklund conducted a national analysis and found that between 2000 and 2012, anti-evolution bills were introduced 110 times in 26 states. However, only 25 percent of this legislation made it through the respective state education committees for a vote by a state legislative chamber, and the only states where bills were enacted into law were Louisiana and Tennessee.

How much of a “national analysis” was necessary? All they needed to do was ask the National Center for Science Education. They even could have asked us. Oooops — at the end, it says they did get some data from NCSE. Anyway, we continue:

“The top three states where anti-evolution legislation was introduced were Oklahoma with 13 bills, Mississippi with 11 bills and Alabama with 10 bills,” Johnson said. “These three states also have the highest numbers of conservative protestants (denominations diversely associated with fundamentalist, Pentecostal, charismatic, and evangelical religious movements) in the United States. In addition, more than two-thirds of the bills were introduced in states with more than 25 percent of the population identifying as conservative Protestants.”

Amazing. Simply amazing. We never would have suspected that. Here’s one more excerpt:

“Given the mobilization of creationist interest groups around this issue and anti-evolution public opinion – particularly in states with a high number of conservative Protestants – you might think that this would lead to greater success in turning these bills into laws, but this has not been the case,” Johnson said. “Nevertheless, whether or not a bill is enacted, the introduction of legislation like this can be a symbolic way to reassure evangelical political constituents that their concerns are represented and that their views are legitimate.”

Oh, wait — we can’t omit this:

Johnson said he hopes the study will help groups who are committed to upholding the integrity of science education in public schools.

Yes, it gives us all new and valuable insights. We’re also told:

The study will appear in an upcoming edition of Social Science Quarterly.

Where else? So there you are, dear reader. The social scientists are paying attention. Aren’t you glad?

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10 responses to “Social Scientists Study The Controversy

  1. Hmmm – Ecklund eh? I think that she gets a bucket of money from Templeton, so I guess this is how it gets spent.

  2. Ken Phelps

    Much as it resembles one of those breathtaking “sun to rise in East tomorrow” works addressing the obvious, there is some value in having things that are well known to regular observers ensconced in the indices of academia for the benefit of those who have found it expedient to remain uninformed. One hopes that such a study might be useful to the moderate legislator seeking a not-overtly-political rationale for a science-literate vote.

  3. Might this sort of thing be useful at all in a court case?

  4. Dave Luckett

    I think the important points here are, one, that the legislation is not introduced to please religious conservatives, but to “placate” them; and, two, that the legislators introducing it do not expect it to become law. In other words, this is a charade undertaken in the knowledge that there exists a useful demographic that is naturally antagonistic to government, but can be easily fooled by a Potemkin facade.

    It’s an interesting condemnation of both that demographic – they’re idiots, but handled right, can be useful idiots – and of the politics, which is to the last degree cynical and manipulative. As such, I think it’s worth doing.

  5. michaelfugate

    Ecklund, meh.
    Religion is wonderful, everyone is religious – you just don’t know it….

  6. Mike Elzinga

    “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

    — H. L. Mencken

    Found here.

    I think it was either Mencken or Mark Twain who wryly observed that most public officials couldn’t get elected if they weren’t more intelligent than the people who elect them.

  7. I know it can’t be done but it would be nice to have all science based medicine leave the states that vote in anti-evilution bills! Then any citizen that needs GOOD treatment has to leave the state to get it. Because ya know viruses or bacteria don’t evolve so they don’t need new treatments in those states.

  8. That’s all micro-evolution. Those viruses or bacteria that evolve are still viruses or bacteria. They don’t become a different kind, like a dog or cat.

  9. docbill1351

    Elaine Ecklund – B A R F ! ! !

    Must be nice to grift a few million out of the idiotic Templeton Foundation to write a “No Duh!” paper. Time for some day drinking!

  10. Thank you, Dave Luckett, for offering something intelligent to say rather than continuing the lazy, equally doltish snark. It’s rather hypocritical indeed to lambaste what one thinks is unnecessary or shoddy science with equally unnecessary and shoddy commentary. It is certainly valuable to have empirical data which support conclusions that we culturally derived quite a while ago–that dangerous and dangerously stupid anti-evolution legislation is proposed primarily to placate rather than dictate. That is, it’s easy for naysayers to reject that conclusion as a part of a “liberal conspiracy.” It’s quite another to have more quantitative data to unambiguously support the idea.

    To categorically dismiss social science with cherry-picked examples showcasing the worst practitioners (a group of which the above mentioned article is not a member) of the bunch is inexcusable laziness. There are excellent, ethical scientists in every field, and there are scientists in every field who are embarrassing, dangerous a__holes. Seriously, SC, you can’t properly rage against the rise of irrationality and the devolution of sound critical thinking with the very same type of irrational nonsense.