Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Responses to my op-ed on state science standards

The Lexington Herald-Leader today printed not one, but two responses to my op-ed on the state's science standards today. I'll treat them in separate posts.

The first response, by Daniel Phelps, a geologist with the Kentucky Paleontological Society, "Study of climate change is search for evidence," calls my op-ed "odd and irrelevant." He then proceeds to refute arguments I never made and mis-portray the issues involved in the science standards.

He says:
Cothran, a political lobbyist for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, lacks a background in science. Furthermore his organization is an extremely conservative religious one and does not have science advisors.
As to the Family Foundation not having science advisors, how does he know this? We have had plenty of occasion to employ scientists in our policy work--particularly on issues such as abortion and human cloning. But, as it happens, we didn't need them in this case because we were not dealing with scientific questions.

This is why my science background is completely irrelevant. Why would that matter unless the questions at issue on the state's science standards were uniquely scientific questions? In fact, the questions at issue in the state's science standards are policy questions, not scientific questions and the fact that Phelps can't tell the difference is at least one indication that scientific expertise is inadequate in dealing with the questions he says I'm inadequate to address.

If Phelps thinks that the issue I addressed in my article--whether there is an inordinate emphasis on climate topics in the standards--is a scientific question, maybe he would care to tell us to which branch of science this belongs. Is the balance of a particular topic in standards a biological question? Is it a matter of chemistry? Perhaps the relative emphasis of scientific subjects is a matter of particle physics.

If Phelps believes that the questions I addressed in my op-ed were scientific questions and they required specialized scientific knowledge to adequately assess, then why isn't Phelps concerned about the State School Board, one of the bodies chiefly responsible for assessing and approving the standards? The Board is not made up of scientific experts, nor are the legislative panels whose role it is to affirm the Board's decisions.

But the central problem with Phelp's editorial is that it completely skirts my point. He clearly thinks the issue is whether evolution is a valid theory of biological development and whether global warming is a debatable issue in the scientific community.

He says:
Evolution and climate change are included in the standards because there is overwhelming consensus within the scientific community in support of these ideas.
But as a response to my op-ed, this is oddly irrelevant. It has absolutely nothing to do with the balance of emphasis on individual scientific topics, which was my thesis. These assertions could be completely true and my point would be unaffected.

In fact, Phelps spends most of his article talking about the truth of the evolution and global warming theory.
But these are not the issues I addressed. In fact, I nowhere even said what my opinion was on these issues. The only mention I made of evolution--and I only made it in passing--was that there had been a controversy over the emphasis in the standards. And on climate change, I stated very clearly, "Whatever your views on global warming, it is hard to understand how such an inordinate emphasis on a single fashionable topic could be justified." [emphasis added]

Phelps may have a scientific background, but he seems to be lacking a background in basic logic.


Andy Mead said...

Mr. Cothran,

You are trying too hard to drag us back to the Middle Ages. Give it up; the world is moving on.


Anonymous said...

Martin, if you aren't a creationist, then why do you work for the organization that promoted this:
http://www.kentuckyfamily.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/church-bulletin-insert1.pdf ?

Hank Reynolds said...

So logic is a medieval concept and the contemporary world has moved on? I can't really argue with that.

Anonymous said...

If I remember your op-ed correctly, you seemed to be fixated on the number of times various words showed up in the body of the proposed new standards, and you somehow thought that those words were weighted incorrectly. Could you not be bothered to actually read the thing? Hitting ctrl-f and counting the number of matches is not exactly scintillating research into the alleged failings of the proposed plan!

Yes, yes, we all know that you don't like science, especially when it disagrees with your closely held religious beliefs (like evolution) or monetary overlords (like climate science), but please do us all the favor of attempting to contribute in a meaningful way, instead of just phoning it in with word counts.

Martin Cothran said...


I did read it. On what basis do you say I didn't? And when I read it, I didn't find anything to conflict with what the word count indicated.

Did you read it?

Martin Cothran said...


So in the middle ages they had balanced science curricula? I haven't seen a Medieval science curriculum, but I bet they mention hypothesis formation more than once.

Anonymous said...

Martin, if you aren't a creationist, then why do you work for the organization that promoted this:
http://www.kentuckyfamily.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/church-bulletin-insert1.pdf ?

Martin Cothran said...


The Family Foundation has people of differing views on this issue. But the church bulletin insert you give the link for has to do, as my article did, with the relative emphasis on the subject of evolution.

Are you suggesting that it denies evolution per se or champions creation as the only correct view?

Art said...

In fact, Phelps spends most of his article talking about the truth of the evolution and global warming theory.
But these are not the issues I addressed.

But you did, Martin. When you state: "Whatever your views on global warming, it is hard to understand how such an inordinate emphasis on a single fashionable topic could be justified.", you are wandering into the debate about the truth of global warming. Dan's response explains why such an "inordinate emphasis" is justified. Talking science is part of the explanation.

One point of confusion - are you angry or proud that Dan has flagged you as part of the justification?

Anonymous said...


"when a politician or religious person says that he or she is a “progressive” or attaches “progressive” as an adjective to their ideological and ecclesiastical commitments, you can predict what will follow: an aggressive series of programs designed to conform society to the most recent trending moral and social fad even though history has proven to us again and again much of what actually works. Progressives will then use the power of the state to “try certain things out” like reconstructing how families function, how businesses function, how governments function, what the content is that best educates children to be future innovators and problem solvers, how to keep the poor out of poverty, and so on. And when these experiments fail, like social security, public education in low-come areas, welfare, the creation of the Department of Education, and so on, we are left to pick up the pieces and the progressives who got us into these messes cannot be held accountable and are long gone."

Do these people think we're idiots? Suffer in your own contemptible urges and leave us alone.

Martin Cothran said...


How does simply making arguments for global warming justify giving it greater emphasis than other, more basic scientific issues?

Martin Cothran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...


Wow. Thanks for bringing that to our attention, Anon.

All the protestations of Martin that he and the FF are not making any judgements about the science and then they produce garbage like this. Apparently, these groups (like the FF in Kentucky) are so intellectually bankrupt they see their only chance in riling up fundamentalist parents rather than engage with the academic departments and actual science.

Martin claims that they are not judging the science, yet here we are told:

'Our children’s college readiness and performance is not dependent on increasing their mastery of evolution , however increasing this instruction and testing does cause serious conflict with the sincerely held religious beliefs of the families and students.'

So not only are they judging what science students need to learn to be prepared for college level science (making exactly the kind of judgements of science Martin protests they are not making), they expressly state that their objections to evolution are on religious grounds. And then they wonder why 'equal time' and 'controversy' laws etc. are thrown out in court?

And here:

'Leave the evolution testing to the
local Site Council’s and Science teacher’s discretion on regular exams as they are knowledgeable of the community’s values on this subject and the evolution
instruction in their classes.'

So how and how much evolution is taught should not be based on actual science and science standards, but on a 'community's values'?

It doesn't surprise me that members of an organization that spews out that kind of nonsense also write OP-Eds calling documents 'global-warming manifestos' based on word-count.

Anonymous said...


Denis Noble:

"The dogmatic claims (a) that the inheritance of acquired characteristics is impossible, (b) that all evolutionary change is incremental accumulation of ‘random’ mutations, (c) that the tree of life does not include lateral transfer to form a network of life, have quite clearly been dis-proven by experimental work. I can’t understand why neo-darwinists cannot accept this. But we must also avoid the reverse dogma: the neo-darwinist view of evolutionary mechanisms has not been dis-proven. It has simply become one of several mechanisms of evolutionary change.

He points out that:

Despite the great influence of Popper, single contrary observations rarely destroy a strongly established theory. The tendency is to fix theories, extend them, even to redefine their entities,, in ways that allow the contrary observations to be absorbed. This is what happened to Waddington’s work. If they can’t be absorbed in this way, they are sidelined as anomalies.

He points out that: "[Evolution] can’t be reduced to a simple formula with one paradigmatic mechanism."


It's also pretty notable that none of the Dawkins Defenders have really responded directly to Denis's points - even from the Music of Life let alone his latest work. I've glanced at the list of 417 citations of Music of Life
and I can't see anything - more to the point nor is Denis aware.

It will be interesting to see whether any of them rise to the challenge of his "Rocking the Foundations" paper when it becomes the basis for his IUPS Presidential Address next month. At present it hasn't really penetrated popular consciousness.  We shall see... "

“Opposite of diversity? University.

"It is also hard to argue that we enjoy separation of Harvard and state. Harvard is conventionally described as a "private" university. This term is strictly nominal. Vast streams of cash flow from the taxpayer's pocket into Harvard's - as they do not flow to, say, the Vatican.

Except for a few unimportant institutions of non-mainstream religious affiliation, we simply do not see multiple, divergent, competing schools of thought within the American university system. The whole vast archipelago, though evenly speckled with a salting of contrarians, displays no factional structure whatsoever. It seems almost perfectly synchronized.

There is a strange self-organizing quality about this design. Does the American university system's maintenance of broad unanimity, despite the clear absence of anything like a coordinating executive authority, make it seem less creepy to you? Or more?

The triangle of professors, bureaucrats, and public opinion is stable, because the professors teach as well as advise. The system experiences some strain. But it will stay together, so long as the polarity does not randomly reverse.

But no. Cthulhu may swim slowly. But he only swims left. Isn't that interesting?"
Moldbug 'Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations'”

I don't know about other readers but it seems to me education departments and biologists have enough to worry about within their own ranks without saying to moms and dads who have their own children, their own flesh and blood on the line, "well yes we suffer under various dogmatisms, we're human, our climate models are completely stuffed, but YOU'RE A RELIGIOUS BIGOT if you don't play along and in our role as secular priests!" "Oh and give us your children and the cash!"

Martin S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin S. said...


Pray, start a family, be a friend, don't accept lies, take responsibility, be a citizen not a functionary.

Be independent, go to the source of being. Listen to Him.

Dr Edward Feser - An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God. http://vimeo.com/60979789

Martin Cothran said...


Where is your evidence that students who have studied evolution in high school biology are better prepared for college than students who have not?

Highlands Latin School just sent a student to MIT on scholarship without much exposure to it. I'll let her know she's not qualified.

Singring said...

'Highlands Latin School just sent a student to MIT on scholarship without much exposure to it. I'll let her know she's not qualified.'

Good for her and good for Highlands Latin School.

Is that a scholarship in biology?

Martin Cothran said...


I don't know. But how does that answer the question of whether you have evidence for your assertion?

Anonymous said...

"What do you think of Global Warming?"

Thomas Sowell "... " 30:10 min


Anonymous said...

Oh dear

34:20min Sowell "I hadn't thought of that, that's a chilling thought... we're becoming a nation of people who are propagandized from elementary school right on through to the graduate school, in a certain vision of the world. And it's only the ones who, for one reason or another, [due to] experience or insight or whatever leads them to say "WAIT A MINUTE!" only those are the ones that we have [left] to depend on."

Singring said...

'I don't know. But how does that answer the question of whether you have evidence for your assertion?'

Well, maybe you should find out before touting her as evidence that someone without some education in evolutionary biology is as prepared for a college degree in, say, biosciences, as someone who has that education.

I never made any assertion - I said that the FF wants to tell parents what science students do and don't need to be well prepared for college - this after you repeatedly claimed you didn't need science expertise or science advisers because you weren't judging the science.

But why am I even debating this with someone who is part of an organization that scurries around in churches trying to scare parents into signing petitions instead of having the intellectual backbone of fielding their ideas in the academic arena where actual science is debated?

The FF has made its priorities clear and they certainly don't appear to revolve around having an honest discussion of the science and it's relevance for education out in the open, on an academic level.

Martin S. said...

@singring. Reading a little of 'Vital Remnants' made me seriously consider if you were a construct of Cothran, you seemed like a too perfect/convenient foil. Others have had this experience I notice. But the sheer consistency of your mindlesness is likely even too great for fiction, and I'm forced to ask directly if you are real, and if can prove it? If you really are real what on earth made you what you are? A desperate question given that you are a pure type, and very worthy of scientific study.

My first guess is that something very negative happened to you at a formative stage related to an our inherited Christian tradtion, or you commit your body in homosexual sexual practices directly and consciously against Biblical proscriptions, and you think, after now many years, that it is a species of courage. I'm really stretching/aghast at how your personality could exist in the real world.

And listen I'm grateful if you are real, if you shared some background/biography for those of us who might have missed it and have a natural curiousity.

Singring said...

@Martin S.

I'm sure you'll understand that I feel no particular urge to respond to a request that is prefaced with an insult and quite laughable (both literally and figuratively) insinuations about my character.

I am sorry (and somewhat alarmed) if my 'personality' leaves you 'aghast'. Have you ever traveled to other parts of the world and interacted with people who hold different views to your own?

I sincerely encourage you to go out and meet some other real atheists and listen to what they have to say - just as I am here listening to what Catholics have to say (no matter how much I end up disagreeing with it).

Would that no be a species of courage?

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