Archive for the ‘Scientific Research’ Category

A Philosopher of Science Explains the Importance of Scientific Consensus

August 3, 2013
Massimo Pigliucci

Massimo Pigliucci

by Doughlas Remy

I’ve been blogging on conservative Catholic websites for about as long as those sites have existed. Why I chose Catholic ones and not, say, Evangelical ones, has more to do with my early (i.e., post-graduate) literary interests than my religious background (Southern Baptist). I read Catholic authors because my specialty was French and Italian literature. Then a French literary critic, René Girard, captured my attention in the 70s, and for the next thirty years, I was reading and re-reading his books. From his reading of great European literature—especially the works of Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Proust, he had developed and beautifully articulated a theory of mimetic desire, a theory that seemed to have vast implications for all the human sciences. I was enthralled, and I still am. But then something almost inexplicable happened: René Girard had a conversion experience and became folded back into Catholicism. I still do not understand his conversion, even in the light of his own writings, but his re-induction into the faith of his ancestors now had me wondering anew about the power of faith and about the anthropological role of Christianity in the evolution of human morality. Looking for conversation about this issue, I discovered Gil Bailie’s site (The Cornerstone Forum), and then other conservative Catholic sites. Though I was never Catholic myself, I became fascinated by the Church’s millennial struggles with the secularizing forces of Western civilization. I understood that Catholicism—quintessentially emblematic of the sacred in Western history for the last 2000 years—is now in steep decline. The laity is going its own way, ignoring Church teachings about homosexuality, contraception, and a host of other issues. Conservative Catholics know this and resist the trend by discounting every idea that does not either emanate from the Church or receive its stamp of approval. In many cases, as I have discovered, this resistance amounts to nothing less than a repudiation of the scientific understanding of the world that has been accumulating since the Renaissance. 

The topic that drew me into discussions on conservative Catholic sites  was almost invariably homosexuality—because I am gay, because it was a “hot” topic on the blogs, and because I could see that conservative Catholic opinion was flagrantly out of touch with scientific understanding about homosexuality.  And the homosexuality issue took on added significance because it was, and is, one of Catholicism’s current “flash-points” with secularism.

But other “hot” topics on these blogs, such as contraception and climate change, were too compelling to ignore, and so I diversified, but always with a view to offering secular perspectives and encouraging more empirical approaches to issues.

I cannot even count the number of times I’ve cited consensus scientific opinions about these issues, only to be told that these opinions don’t count. Never mind that  98 percent of climate scientists believe that climate change is caused by emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, because a certain university professor somewhere has published a peer-reviewed study claiming that the whole anthropogenic climate change theory is a conspiracy and a hoax! These denialist bloggers say they are only giving equal time to both sides of the question, but in fact they are ignoring consensus opinion on the matter while looking for confirmation of their biases. (Otherwise, they would give unequal time to the two sides of the question, at a ratio of 98 to 2.)

And never mind that all the major medical and social welfare associations in this country, as well as the World Health Organization, have unequivocally stated that homosexuality is not a disorder. The Church says that it is “intrinsically disordered,” and that’s that. Again, consensus opinion doesn’t matter, and if a veneer of scientific respectability is needed for the Church’s archaic stance on the issue, then any one of several socially conservative think tanks can be depended on to provide one.

With these frustrations roiling in the background, I came across a passage from Massimo Pigliucci’s “Answers for Aristotle” (2012), one of the best and most accessible guides I have found to understanding the roles of science and philosophy in modern life. Pigliucci, a philosopher of science at CUNY-Lehman College, has this to say:

Answers for AristotleScientific knowledge is both objective and subjective, because it results from a particular perspective (the human one) interacting with how the world really is. The result is that our scientific theories will always be tentative and to some extent wrong,… but will also capture to a smaller or greater extent some important aspect of how the world actually is. Science provides us with a perspective on the world, not with a God’s-eye view of things. It gives us an irreducibly human, and therefore to some extent subjective—yet certainly not arbitrary—view of the universe.

Now, why should any of this be of concern to the intelligent person interested in improving her or his well-being through the use of reason? Because a better understanding of how science actually works puts us in the position of the sophisticated skeptic, who is neither a person who rejects science as a matter of anti-intellectual attitude nor a person who accepts the pronouncements of scientists at face value, as if they were modern oracles whose opinions should never be questioned. Too often public debates about the sort of science that affects us all (climate change, vaccines and autism, and so on) are framed in terms of alleged conspiracies on the part of the scientific community on one side and of expert opinion beyond the reach of most people on the other side. Scientists are just like any other technical practitioners and in very fundamental ways are no different from car mechanics or brain surgeons. If your problem is that your car isn’t running properly, you go to a mechanic. If there is something wrong with your brain, you go to the neurosurgeon. If you want to find out about evolution, climate change, or the safety of vaccines, your best bet is to ask the relevant community of scientists.

Just as with car mechanics and brain surgeons, however, you will not necessarily find unanimity of opinion in this community, and sometimes you may want to seek a second or even a third opinion. Some of the practitioners will not be entirely honest (though this is pretty rare across the three categories I am considering), and you may need to inquire into their motives. Scientists are not objective, godlike entities, dispensing certain knowledge. They have a human perspective on things, including the field in which they are experts. But other things being equal, your best bet—particularly when the stakes are high—is to go with the expert consensus, and if a consensus is lacking, you’re better off going with the opinion of the majority of experts. Keeping in mind, of course, that they might, just might, be entirely wrong.

The American Psychological Association’s Brief on Homosexuality and Sexual Orientation

February 21, 2013

APA LogoSince 1975, the American Psychological Association has called on psychologists to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations. The discipline of psychology is concerned with the well-being of people and groups and therefore with threats to that well-being. The prejudice and discrimination that people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual regularly experience have been shown to have negative psychological effects. This information is designed to provide accurate information for those who want to better understand sexual orientation and the impact of prejudice and discrimination on those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

Continue reading this article.

Ten Red Flags on the Mark Regnerus Study

September 7, 2012

by Frank Lozera and Doughlas Remy

Mark Regnerus, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas, Austin

In June of this year, the journal Social Science Research (henceforth: SSR) published a study by associate professor of sociology Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas. The study, titled “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?,” purports to show that the children raised by same-sex couples have poorer outcomes than those raised by mixed-orientation parents. The study has been widely denounced for conflicts of interest in the review process and for its flawed methodology. Among professional organizations calling for its recall are the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychoanalytic Association. The American Sociological is poised to join them. Additionally, over 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s signed a letter to the SSR complaining about the study.

The study has been widely touted by conservative media in an apparent attempt to garner support for anti-same-sex-marriage initiatives appearing on fall ballots. Appearing as it did in June, just as the 2012 presidential campaigns were ramping up, it has had a huge impact on the national debate about same-sex marriage.

Amy Davidson, writing for The New Yorker, has this to say about the Regnerus study:

Attacking the methodology of a study whose conclusions you don’t like can be a lazy default reaction. But, in this case, the way it was conducted is so breathtakingly sloppy that it is useful only as an illustration of how you can play fast and loose with statistics.

The study’s methodological problems are indeed so glaring that they should have been red-flagged by qualified peer-reviewers. Instead, an internal SSR audit revealed a shoddy review process and egregious conflicts of interest at every step leading to the study’s publication.

Author Scott Rose of The New Civil Rights Movement has produced a prodigious amount of research on the Regnerus study and is my source for most of what follows. My account is an effort to organize the available information into a list of “red-flags” grouped under two headings: (1) Conflicts of Interest and (2) Methodological Flaws.

Conflicts of Interest

Red Flag #1: Robert P. George commissioned Mark Regnerus to conduct the study, which was to determine whether gay or lesbian parenting had any adverse effects on children. Regnerus received $785,000, which he says came “in part” from the Witherspoon Institute’s Family, Marriage, and Democracy program and from the Bradley Foundation. Regnerus reveals neither the amounts contributed by these organizations nor the source of any additional funding.

Robert P. George, author of The Manhattan Declaration and founder of the National Organization for Marriage

Red flag #2: Robert P. George (see Red Flag #1) is a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute and a board member of the Bradley Foundation. He is also founder of the National Organization for Marriage (this country’s largest advocacy group opposed to same-sex marriage), board member of the Family Research Council (certified as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), and author of the Manhattan Declaration, a theoconservative document advocating civil disobedient resistance to any legislation promoting same-sex marriage.

Red flag #3: W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the Witherspoon program that provided funding for the Regnerus study, is among Mark Regnerus’s long-time personal friends and professional associates.

Red flag #4: Wilcox is also on the editorial board of SSR, which published the Regnerus study.

Red flag #5: SSR’s editorial board decided to publish the Regnerus study on a “rush schedule” (41 days from submission, compared to months for most publications). Why the rush? The most likely explanation is that the 2012 election season was ramping up and various state initiatives regarding same-sex marriage were to be on the ballots. An audit of the study supports this conclusion (see below).

In prioritizing this study, the journal violated its own peer review policy and settled for peer reviewers who possessed no expertise in same-sex parenting or LGBT issues. Three of them were known to be antipathetic toward LGBT causes, including same-sex marriage. SSR’s own auditor (Professor Darren P. Sherket, an SSR editorial board member) admitted that there was “an unseemly rush to publication … that was justified based on the attention that these studies would generate. The published [peer-review] responses were milquetoast critiques by scholars with ties to Regnerus and/or the Witherspoon Institute.”

W. Bradford Wilcox, editorial board member of Social Science Research and program director at the Witherspoon Institute

Red flag #6: Bradford Wilcox, program director at the Witherspoon Institute, member of the journal’s editorial board, personal friend of Regnerus, and paid Regnerus study consultant, was one of the peer reviewers for the study. This was an egregious violation of the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) Code of Ethics.

Red flag #7: According to Sherket, at least two of the peer reviewers had been paid consultants for the study design.

Red flag #8: Mark Regnerus violated the American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics by recruiting Robert Oscar Lopez to write an essay—published on Witherspoon’s online publication Public Discourse-–drawing conclusions from the study. W. Bradford Wilcox is an editorial board member for that publication.

Methodological Flaws

Red flag #9: Regnerus did not control the variables in his test group (children of gay and lesbian parents) and his comparison group (children of heterosexual parents).

The alleged purpose of the study was to answer the question, “Do the children of gay and lesbian parents look comparable to those of their heterosexual counterparts?” Regnerus claims that his study proves a correlation between gay parenting and sub-standard child outcomes.

Regnerus should have eliminated any factors that might cloud the issue. If his comparison group contained only children of continuously married heterosexual parents, his test group should have contained only children of continuously “partnered” same-sex couples.

Instead, Regnerus selected children of continuously married parents for his comparison group, and children mainly from failed mixed-orientation marriages for his test group. This introduction of a third factor into the test group (but not into the comparison group) should have disqualified the study.

Because of this asymmetry, the study can only be said to show that children raised in broken homes do less well that those raised in intact homes. But, of course, this is not Regnerus’s own stated conclusion.

All respondents, who at the time of the study were adults between ages 18 and 39, were asked the following question:

From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?

If the answer was “yes,” the respondent was considered to have been the child of a gay or lesbian parent, whether or not the child had been raised by a same-sex couple. The “romantic relationship” of the question could have been nothing more than an infatuation or a one-night stand. A child of Larry Craig could have qualified as a respondent, though Craig was never part of a same-sex couple.

In other words, the actual parenting of that child might have been done by an opposite-sex couple. Nevertheless, Regnerus places the child into the category of “children raised by gay or lesbian parents.”

Tom Bartlett, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, says, “In reality, only two respondents lived with a lesbian couple for their entire childhoods, and most did not live with lesbian or gay parents for long periods, if at all.”

Of the 253 respondents in the test group, 42% reported living with a gay father and his partner for at least four months, but only two percent of those reported doing so for at least three years.

Red flag #10: All the respondents were born between 1971 and 1994, a period when same-sex marriage was illegal in the U.S., there were no domestic partnership laws, and millions of gays and lesbians were trying to cope with closet issues, many of them marrying (straight partners) in a desperate effort to assimilate. Not surprisingly, many of those marriages failed. Their children’s later behavior may have been a result of family upheaval.

Fallout

Shortly after the study’s publication, over 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s signed a letter to SSR complaining about it. Their conclusion: “There are substantial concerns about the merits of this paper, and these concerns should have been identified through a thorough and rigorous peer review process.”

Darren Sherkat, editorial board member at Social Science Research and auditor of the Regnerus study

After receiving the above letter of complaint, James Wright, SSR’s editor-in-chief, assigned Darren Sherkat (SSR editorial board member) to perform an audit of the publication process. The audit, which has already been made public, will be published in SSR’s November issue.

In the audit, Sherkat found that the Regnerus study was not scientifically valid and that the peer review had failed because of “both ideology and inattention.” He wrote that the peer-review process “failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems.” [emphasis mine] He added that SSR’s owners were more interested in the “impact factor” than in publishing reliable research: “…rigorous independent evaluation [of the Regnerus study] would have made Social Science Research a less popular but better journal.”

In a subsequent e-mail to Scott Rose, Sherkat wrote: “How did this study get through peer review? The peers are right-wing Christianists!”

Elsewhere, Sherkat described the study as “bullshit.”

“There should be reflection about a conservative scholar garnering a very large grant from exceptionally conservative foundations,” Sherkat writes in the audit, “to make incendiary arguments about the worthiness of LGBT parents—and putting this out in time to politicize it before the 2012 United States presidential election.”

Conclusion

Regnerus’s study doesn’t document the failure of same-sex parenting. Instead, it shows the harmful effects of closeting and the devastations wrought upon children by social opprobrium. The overwhelming majority of the children in the test group were raised by mixed-orientation parents, not same-orientation ones.

A society that uses stigmatization and discrimination to force its same-sex-oriented young people into marriages with opposite-sex-oriented individuals should not be surprised when those marriage fall apart, damaging children in the process. If we are to learn anything from Regnerus’s study, it is that children benefit from being raised in stable households. Not only does same-sex marriage offer such stability; it also  helps to stabilize “straight” marriages by siphoning off closeted gays and lesbians who might otherwise stay in the straight-marriage pool.

What could be more sensible?

The Cornerstone Forum Once Again Refuses to be Confused by Facts, Alternative Opinions, Data, Evidence, Documentation, Reliable Information, or Scientific Studies.

June 13, 2012
“I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.”  — Sir George Sitwell, English Eccentric

Since its inception, Gil Bailie’s Facebook page for The Cornerstone Forum has sought to interpret and respond to contemporary culture “from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to the social teachings of the Church.” This is because Bailie sees Catholic faith and practice as increasingly caught “in the crossfire,” as he puts it. And he is a faithful son of the church.

Benedict XVI and Gil Bailie

But Bailie’s use of the “crossfire” metaphor is a mite disingenuous. It implicitly casts the Church in the role of an innocent bystander or a disinterested third party—despite all indications that it is not and has never been either of these. Just in recent months, Catholic institutions have sued the U.S. government over the HHS contraceptive coverage mandate, thrown their full weight behind anti-same-sex-marriage initiatives, chastised nuns for focusing on poverty and hunger rather than abortion and homosexuality, bullied the girl scouts over including a 7-year-old transgendered girl, excommunicated doctors and nuns for saving lives, and joined Republican efforts to restrict women’s access to abortions at the state level. Over the years, Church institutions have lied about contraceptives to poor Africans, obstructed patient access to accurate information and services in secular hospitals, and purged scholars who attempted to build bridges to other faiths. (For details on several of these points, see “8 Ugly Sins of the Catholic Church,” by Valerie Tarico on Alternet.)

There can no longer be any doubt either that the Church has a horse in the race or, in the case of Gil Bailie’s unfortunate metaphor, that the king has no clothes: the Church is not “caught in the crossfire.” It is firing mortars at its enemies.

Bailie’s attempt to propagate an essentially hermetic and authoritarian ideology via the Internet was a tricky proposition from the start. The Internet is by design an open, expansive, inclusive, and anti-authoritarian medium—a “real” forum, unlike the “gated” one Bailie would like to cordon off within it. People come and go, expressing all kinds of opinions willy-nilly, in a real marketplace of ideas. It’s like a Turkish souk alive with chatter and dissension. You can buy anything there, but you’ll have to negotiate—sometimes loudly.

So, The Cornerstone Forum has indeed had visitors from all kinds of people from all parts of the world—England, Austria, China, Italy, and Australia, to name a few—and, surprise!—not all of them have expressed views that perfectly match Bailie’s own. Some of their voices have been more strident than his. Some of them have been highly articulate and even argumentative, as if they had no idea of the gravitas of The Cornerstone Forum’s founder or the unassailability of his views.

Flat earth orbited by sun and moon

A large part of the disputation at The Cornerstone Forum has concerned issues of truth. The thread I have reproduced below is typical: Bailie informs his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall, and then he seems genuinely offended that they don’t buy it. (Well, actually, some do.) At that point, facts and logical arguments are offered—always by readers, virtually never by Bailie—and he ignores or dismisses them with smug little retorts like, “We’ll see.” A few weeks later, he puts up another post informing his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall.

This has been the pattern during the many years that I have visited The Cornerstone Forum’s pages, where we’ve learned that climate change is a hoax, homosexuality is gravely disordered, same-sex marriage will cause civilizational collapse, religious freedom is under attack, the Obama presidency is precipitating totalitarianism, the Muslims are taking over Europe, and secularism is to blame for everything that is wrong with the world.

About a month ago, Bailie reacted to the growing chorus of dissent by issuing a warning similar to the one you will find in the thread below. When it was not heeded, he issued a second one and expelled one of the most insightful and articulate of his critics, George Dunn. All traces of Dunn immediately disappeared, and dozens of threads no longer made sense without his voice. If you’ve ever seen photos of Stalin’s politburo with purged officials airbrushed out, you’ll get the picture.

Today, Bailie issued a third warning. This time, the one expelled was I. Here is the conversation:

Gil Bailie:

I am currently researching the worldwide demographic decline and its enormous consequences. The evidence for the decline is overwhelming, but so are the studies that trace it and the data confirming the researchers’ conclusions. I cannot claim to have a complete grasp of the problem, but I have arrived at a preliminary hypothesis:

Whereas some animals don’t breed when in captivity, humans apparently don’t breed when in metaphysical despondency, regardless of how unacknowledged and embedded in material prosperity that despondency might be.

Doughlas Remy:

There is no “worldwide demographic decline.” However, there are declining birth rates in certain countries, such as Japan and some countries of Europe. The world’s population, now slightly over 7 billion, is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. That’s really rapid growth, so rest assured there’s no lack of breeding going on.

I’m not sure how you measure “metaphysical despondency” or whether there is in fact such a thing. But surely people in certain high-growth societies (e.g., in parts of Africa and East Asia) have much more reason to experience metaphysical despair than Europeans and Japanese, and it is not slowing them down.

Birth rates in Europe and Japan are falling because women are now better educated and have more options. And yes, low birth rates can pose social challenges, but so can high ones, as we discussed earlier. See my article about this on The Bent Angle.

Darrick Northington:

This seems like an impossible argument to make. I echo Doughlas, given that every human belongs to some demographic and earth’s human population is in fact growing rather than declining, the claim that we’re experiencing some kind of “global demographic decline” is false.

Gil Bailie:

We’ll see.

Doughlas Remy:

@Darrick: I’m surprised The Cornerstone Forum is again making this bizarre claim after the earlier discussion we had, where so many facts were laid out. And these facts are incontrovertible. Population growth, fertility rates, and youth/elder bubbles can all be measured. We’re talking hard data here.

It’s like one of those strange experiences where somebody points up to the blue sky and tells you it is green. You say, “No, it is blue, and my spectrograph will back me up on that.” And they say, “No, to me it’s green. And what’s a spectrograph?”

Patrick Daoust: 

The Economist recently published a book called Megachange, the world in 2050. I’m currently reading the chapter on demography. Mr Remy’s numbers fit with data in the book.

This said, we must ask ourselves why so much of Europe has such a low fertility rate – I think it’s about 1.3 in Spain and Italy. This is quite a problem for policy makers to deal with. My intuition is that in modern western societies the freedoms normally associated with men are seen as more desirable. A lot of feminist movements fight for equal rights with regards to salary, women in high profile jobs, etc. As a whole, our society seems to have stripped away all pride in motherhood.

Darrick Northington:

‎@ Patrick, it sounds like you think mothers have to be second-class citizens. In my opinion, motherhood and fatherhood are both consistent w/ equality, and any definition that necessarily subordinates one to the other is wrong. To suggest that our society doesn’t take pride is wrong, too. I think this kind of talk has more to do with white male dominance than motherhood…the kind of thinking that says a woman’s place is in the home, in the kitchen, and a man’s place is king.

By the way, birthrates in Spain have increased every year for the last 12 years.

Doughlas Remy:

@Patrick. In connection with your final sentence, about society stripping away all pride in motherhood, here is an interesting opinion from Gail Collins of the NYT:

If you look back on what’s happened to women over the last half-century – how the world has opened up for them to have adventures, pursue careers, make choices about the kind of lives they want to live – it all goes back to effective contraception. Before the birth control pill came along, a woman who wanted to pursue a life that involved a lot of education, or a long climb up a career ladder, pretty much had to be willing to devote herself to perpetual celibacy. That’s what contraception means to women.

Iron Woman. Photoshop rendering by Dean Hansen

So, maybe other life paths are simply more attractive to women. Motherhood, after all, is damned hard work, it’s unpaid and under-appreciated, and raising a child is more expensive than ever. Yearly tuition at state universities in Washington State, where I live, is now over $12,000.

In the face of all these obstacles, we have in this country a political party that wants to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids. These cuts are part of a larger proposal to cut social services block grants to the tune of $17 billion over ten years. These grants support Meals on Wheels, child welfare, and day care for children. State legislatures are also unable to raise revenues in the face of anti-tax initiatives.

Child-bearing may also about to become riskier to women if hospitals are allowed to let a woman die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

Because of the work that I do, I’ve had countless more-or-less unstructured conversations with Japanese mid-career professionals over the years, and we always talk about Japan’s birth dearth. They say raising a child is just too expensive. They value quality education and would feel shamed if they couldn’t give their children access to one.

I think there are ways women can be incentivized to have children, but governments like our own seem intent on disincentivizing them. Banning contraception is not, of course, an option, and it shouldn’t be. Women’s need for choice in these matters is paramount. The demographic problems will take care of themselves as we begin to think creatively about them.

Gil Bailie:

Let me try once again to explain why this Facebook page exists. It exists to offer encouragement to those who share its point of view. It does not exist to argue with those who don’t.

This is not a bulletin board or campus kiosk. It is a Cornerstone Forum page, and its purpose is that of the Forum, namely: to encourage and, with God’s grace, occasionally to inspire, those who share our vision and concern. The Forum and this Page exist to give an account of the contemporary cultural and moral crisis from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to Magisterium and the social teachings of the Church, and to do so, when appropriate, by drawing on the extraordinary anthropological insights of René Girard and the theological riches of Benedict XVI, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and others. It is also our purpose here to bring these perspectives to bear on the sundry cultural and moral issues we now face, paying special attention to what we regard as the gravest moral and civil rights issue of our age – abortion – and the gravest anthropological blunder – the evisceration of the meaning of marriage and the demise of the traditional family.

“Censer,” by Dean Hansen

We are not surprised to find that many do not share these concerns, and we offer our best wishes to those who don’t, but we will no longer allow this Facebook page to become an outlet for points of view that are wearily familiar to us, the refutation of which would be as tedious an exercise for us as it would be entirely unconvincing to our naysayers.

To those more sympathetic to our efforts, we are grateful for your interest, and we will continue to try to be as useful and encouraging as possible. If we occasionally point to certain unhappy developments in our cultural life, it will only be for the purpose of encouraging resistance to them for the sake of our children’s children.

Doughlas Remy:

Gil, I think your only option may be to “de-friend” those who do not share your point of view, as you did to George Dunn about a month ago. The Cornerstone Forum will no longer be an open forum, but at least you will have an echo chamber where you can get validation from your supporters and carry out your mission of channeling the church’s (and dare I say, the GOP’s) talking points on issues of the day. I hope you will be fair with your visitors, however: Let them know up front that they will be de-friended if their opinions diverge too much from your own.

As I said in an article on my own blogsite, it’s obvious you don’t value the time and thought that your readers devote to responding to your posts. That is a shame, and it is why I hope to provide a truly open forum on The Bent Angle for some of the issues that you raise. As you will notice, I have already begun to port some of the discussions over there, for fear they will suddenly disappear from TCF. So far, the idea hasn’t caught on with your visitors, and it may not, but I’ll continue the mirroring effort, as I think it is important.

I continue to maintain that truth is important and that none of us has a lock on it, or exclusive rights to it. We reach the truth through dialog.

Richard Dawkins Slices and Dices Rick Perry Over Evolution Remark

August 28, 2011

As anyone who has ever listened to Richard Dawkins is aware, the man does not suffer fools gladly. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to, for he’s a scientist, not a politician. In today’s Washington Post Q&A “On Faith,” Dawkins slices and dices the new fool on the block, Texas governor Rick Perry—and with what exquisite and finely-honed skill. It’s like watching a sushi master chef fillet a salmon with a set of Shun knives. Here’s the full article, and here are some choice excerpts:

There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

***

A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.

Gay Orthodox Jew Talks to a Rabbi

January 17, 2011

Must-See Interactive Presentation from Scientific American

August 5, 2010

“Twelve Events That Will Change Everything,” which appeared in the June 2010 issue of Scientific American, has been made into a rich-media presentation and is well worth viewing. Click on the image below:

British Medical Journal: Reparative Therapies are “Pseudoscientific,” “Unethical.”

May 26, 2009

The tagline accompanying this April 2004 editorial in the British Medical Journal reads, “An ‘old’ problem with relevance today.” The “old” problem is the stigmatization of homosexuality by social custom and religious belief. The author, Marshall Forstein of the Harvard Medical School, offers one of the most eloquent, concise, and authoritative histories of research into homosexuality that I have read. It is well worth a read, and if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, it is guaranteed to pick you up after the big let-down from the California Supreme Court on May 26 (re: Proposition 8).

Having recently had the Roman Catholic catechism quoted to me (“Homosexuality is objectively disordered”), the following passage from the BMJ editorial was especially meaningful:

In spite of every mental health and medical association in the U.S. stating unequivocally that there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is a disorder, many religious organizations continue to declare homosexuality or homosexual behavior as sinful and immoral. This creates spiritual crises for many people who have grown up within anti-homosexual religious families and communities.

Meanwhile, the suicide rate among same-sex-oriented teens in the U.S. continues to be more than three times that of heterosexual teens. There is a clear and well-established connection between these suicides and the extremely toxic religious teachings about homosexuality that abound in our culture.

It is time for religious institutions to align their teachings with the overwhelming scientific consensus about homosexuality. Reparative therapies are not just pseudoscientific but unethical because of the potential dangers they pose, and religionists who support such therapies should be continually confronted with the ethical implications of their stance. The positive alternative to such therapies is gay-affirmative therapy, which helps sexual minorities accept their orientation as a variant of normal human behavior.