Best Blog Posts Of 2008

Great news for those blog readers who don’t have a life and are looking for something to do from now through New Year’s. Jon Swift has compiled a collection of best posts of the year from around the blogosphere. Now you can forget about watching all those bowl games. You’ll be way too busy reading all these excellent blog posts.

The entry from Liberal Values can be found here. It’s a fairly recent one because 1) I didn’t want to bother with a post about the 2008 campaigns which is now dated, and 2) I was too lazy to look back very far through the archives.

Steven Pinker on The Impact of Bush’s War on Science

AlterNet has posted an interview with Steven Pinker regarding the “war on science” conducted by the Bush administration. Here is an excerpt:

JAS: Quite a few people argue that the Bush administration has been especially misleading and meddlesome in distorting the truth about scientific research, suppressing evidence in favor of a political agenda. Do you think it’s true that the Bush administration is more anti-science than previous administrations, or do some of these problems stretch back even farther?

SP: To some extent they go back further. To be honest, I was skeptical of claims that the Bush administration is worse than previous ones. But I have now been turned around, and I see that the accusations are correct, that there is a Republican war on science, and that it does seem unprecedented. I see that in the areas with which I have firsthand familiarity. For issues like sex education and climate, I have had to take the word of the scientists who have been directly involved.

JAS: What changed your mind?

SP: I’ve been personally involved in three issues, and in each case, intervention from the Bush administration has gone against scientific consensus.

The first involved bioethics, where the President’s Council on Bioethics has been packed with cultural conservatives and opponents of biomedical research, with a concerted effort to exaggerate the downside of biomedical research and to play up the fears.

The second is evolution, where Bush himself called for the so-called “controversy” between intelligent design and evolution to be taught in schools, whereas virtually every intelligent scientist believes that there is no such controversy.

The third involves regulation of language on the airwaves, where my book The Stuff of Thought was cited by the solicitor general in a brief to a U.S. Appeals Court on whether the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to sanction the networks for failing to bleep out fleeting expletives — that is, celebrities such as Cher or Bono or Nicole Richie saying “fucking brilliant” or “they can fuck themselves” during live television broadcasts. And the government cited what I think are bogus considerations about protecting the mental health of children as a rationale for restricting speech on the airwaves. They used my writing to support their case in a way that I felt was deceptive.

JAS: Do you believe that the Bush administration’s actions will have any lasting impact on Americans’ levels of trust in science and scientific institutions?

SP: Yes. For example, the Religious Right and their supporters in the Bush administration argue that scientists are suppressing debate about evolution. Having long ago lost the legal battle to have intelligent design taught in the classrooms, they are now framing the issue as an attempt to “teach the controversy,” therefore putting scientists on the side of appearing to want to suppress controversy.

To the extent that they succeed in framing the debate that way, it would look as if scientists are pushing their own dogma. And that is simply dishonest. Scientists would have no interest in a debate between astronomy and astrology or chemistry and alchemy, simply because you have to draw the line somewhere and impose some barrier to entry of basic scientific credibility before you engage in a debate. But that can be distorted into making it seem as if scientists are as dogmatic as the defenders of religious fundamentalism.

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea From The New Scientist

The New Scientist has chosen their top ten articles of the year on evolution with this introduction:

150 years after Darwin proposed it, evolution by natural selection continues to be both a battleground and a hotbed of ideas.

Scientists continue to respond to the latest attacks from creationists, and at the same time propose profound new ideas about evolution. This year has seen perceptions of the virus change from disease-causing villain to evolutionary hero, and the emergence of a new force of evolution – the absence of natural selection.

Many of the articles might not be of interest to those outside of the biological sciences, but there are some which pertain directly to the attacks on science from the right. These include Evolution: 24 Myths and Misconceptions and Evolution: What Missing Link?

Moving beyond these responses to the attacks on science from creationists, among the interesting articles are  Viruses: The unsung heroes of evolution and Vestigial organs: Remnants of evolution. The second answers questions such as why men have nipples and why humans have goose bumps. All of these articles are available on line without need for a subscription.

I’ve also recently linked to information on The Lancet’s special issue on evolution as well as this month’s issue of Scientific American which features the work of Charles Darwin.