Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The monster hunters and the Tennessee anti-evolution bill

There are two stories in the news that are interesting not only on their own merits, but especially in juxtaposition.

The first comes out of the world of cryptozoology, where Dr. Karl Shuker has announced the birth of a new peer-reviewed cryptozoological journal, The Journal of Cryptozoology.  (Read about it here.)  My first thought, being rather a cynic regarding human credulousness, was that it was going to be the Sasquatch hunter's answer to Fate or UFO Digest, but I'm pleased to state for the record that I was wrong.  When they say "peer-reviewed," they mean it -- and the group of people who make up the review board for submissions is no bunch of MonsterQuest rejects, it is a prestigious, highly educated group of renowned zoologists and paleontologists.

So they're doing this thing the right way.  As I've long said, my position as a skeptic does not mean that I don't believe in Bigfoot; it means that I'm withholding judgment until I have evidence.  There's nothing scientifically impossible about many of the claims of cryptozoology buffs, and there have been numerous examples of species long thought extinct being found, alive and well.  What's generally lacking is hard data, something that an unbiased scientist would accept as convincing.  And it seems to me that this review board is amply qualified to make that determination.  It's pretty clear that they don't have a dog in this race -- they're there to sift through the data and publish only those papers that meet a minimum standard for scientific validity.  And that's just as it should be.

So watch for The Journal of Cryptozoology.  It looks like the people in charge have exactly the skeptical approach that has been largely missing from discussions of this subject.

Which is more than I can say for the legislature of the state of Tennessee, which on Monday passed a bill (HB 368) by a margin of 24-8.  (Read about it here.)  Sponsored by Republican Bo Watson, the bill “provides guidelines for teachers answering students’ questions about evolution, global warming and other scientific subjects,” specifically encouraging teachers to "teach the weaknesses" of these "controversial scientific theories."

Well.  As I've said so many times that I'm beginning to feel like I should just post it as a banner headline on the top of this blog, THERE IS NO CONTROVERSY AMONGST SCIENTISTS REGARDING EVOLUTION.  And damn little about global warming.  The evolutionary model is no more subject to "weaknesses" than is the atomic theory, the theory of gravitation, or the theory of electromagnetism.  As far as global warming -- there is no doubt any more that the world is warming up; the only question is to what extent that warm-up is due to human production of carbon dioxide.

As always, this bill is just a transparent attempt to introduce a political or a religious agenda (and increasingly, those are fusing into one thing) into the sphere of governmental oversight of education policy.  It has nothing, nothing whatsoever, to do with science per se -- with the world of rational, critical evaluation of the evidence.  No one who starts from an unbiased position could fail to be swayed by the mountain of evidence supporting the evolutionary model, and in fact we know a great deal more about the mechanisms involved in evolution than we do about those involved in gravitation.

See why I found the linking of those stories wryly amusing?  It's a crazy old world when the people who are investigating Bigfoot and El Chupacabra understand the principles of scientific induction better than those who are entrusted with the welfare and education of our children.  And to the Tennessee legislators who voted for this bill; if you want a fine example of how to keep ignorant superstition and confirmation bias out of the realm of science, you might want to learn a thing or two from the Monster Hunters.

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