Tuesday, October 26, 2010

No choice but to vote for a pseudoscience believer

A letter I sent to the Portland Press Herald this morning

As a Paul LePage voter, a former Intelligent Design defender and co-organizer of the Southern Maine Skeptical Society - a science discussion group based in Portland - I'm in a unique position to respond to Les Dawson's Oct. 25 opinion piece encouraging creationism in public schools and defending LePage's belief in the idea.

I agree with Dawson that there is a place for creationism in a biology class. However, I feel the Intelligent Design criticisms of evolution should be addressed, not taught. For example, some people wonder why there are still monkeys if humans came from monkeys. The answer your biology teacher didn't have the opportunity to tell you is that humans do not come from modern monkeys, we simply share a common ancestor that branched off in different directions. It's like how Cherry Coke is a spin-off of Coca Cola, even though Coca Cola is still around.

Intelligent Design proponents repeat ancient fallacies like that one to cast doubt on evolution, but don’t present evidence for their own position. Normal, intelligent people like Dawson, LePage and at one point myself can be hoodwinked by this fallacious trick.

Dawson attempts to negate evolutionary science by saying that biologists have rapidly different spiritual beliefs than the general public. They do, but that's entirely irrelevant. This naked appeal to popularity ignores that scientists must base their beliefs on evidence. That's why they support evolution and don't pretend to know what caused the Big Bang. Their religious beliefs are irrelevant. Most engineers who design bridges are men, and the gender ratio is much greater than the ratio of men-to-women who drive on those bridges. That doesn't mean there is a flaw in bridges simply because engineers are not a representative sample of the driving public.

Liberal voters should not be smug about LePage’s creationist beliefs because all three major gubernatorial candidates publicly believe in some form of pseudoscience. LePage's creationist beliefs are an embarrassment, but not something he intends to put into policy, or could if he wanted to. Mitchell and Cutler, on the other hand, promise to put their protectionist "Buy Local" beliefs into state policy. As an economic blogger at YoungHipandConservative.com I often write about how local purchasing preferences are unanimously panned by economists, as they are based on Mercantalist theories disproved by Adam Smith in his 1776 book "The Wealth of Nations."

It's a matter of judgment to endorse a candidate who believes in an obvious myth like creationism or one who supports a popular movement like "Buy Local" that has yet to be publicly thrashed in any large capacity. The creationism is an indicator of a distrust of the scientific community, but as this election is to select a governor and not a state science education chairman, it will probably be benign. The worst it does is serve as a marker for possible bad judgment.

However, getting roped in by the "Buy Local" movement indicates a politician who does not understand economics - something entirely relevant to a governor - and a weakness for nonsense presented by social activists. Shouldn't support of useless policies trump irrelevant superstitions?

I'm not sure which is more frustrating, having to vote for politicians who in their private lives support ideas I know are wrong, or hearing supporters of doomed policies condescendingly talk about them.


  1. Oh wait, I know exactly which one is worse. Having to hear opponents of modern agriculture, genetically-modified organisms, cell phones and international trade make fun of other people for not understanding science.

  2. Not that this defeats your argument - which is pretty sound - but I can't help but point out that even though the Governor would not be "state science education chairman" he is responsible for appointments to the State Board of Education, as well as the Commissioner for the Dept. of Education.

    At the same time, those appointments have to be confirmed by the legislature. I also know lots of creative teachers who can teach around sanctioned curricula.

    But still...

    Also, have you completely disregarded Shawn Moody as a potential recipient of your vote? I find a lot of similarities between him and LePage on the business/economics front but without all the social-conservative bullshit.

    Then again, many view a vote for Moody (or Scott) as a "wasted" vote.

  3. Even if the legislature and governor worked together to put someone in who will put creationism in public schools, the courts would follow precedence and knock it out, so I find the risk of trouble very small.

    Moody and Scott are both protectionists. LePage is the only candidate who doesn't preach the (false) importance of buying from Maine. And yes, they have less than 5% at best, so they aren't real candidates.