Congratulations to Chris Mooney on his Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship in Science & Religion

Great news came across my RSS reader the other day that author and journalist, Chris Mooney, was among twelve journalists selected by the John Templeton Foundation for an intensive two-month fellowship on the relationship between science and religion. The Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science & Religion provide financial support for scholars to study at their home institution and engage with US and European scholars at the University of Cambridge UK to “promote a deeper understanding and more informed public discussion of this complex and rapidly evolving area of inquiry.”
As one might suspect, the vast majority of the 239 comments at Chris’s blog post contain vitriol and bile that Chris would take such tainted money as that from the Templeton Foundation because the organization is partisan and this will forever constitute a conflict of interest, that Chris has formally left science, how dare he still call himself a journalist…blah-dee-blah.
As my colleague PhysioProf is wont to say: Bring out the fainting couch and some vapors.
I think all of us in the biomedical sciences know investigators who have taken funding from the tobacco industry before it was fashionable not to and very few of them have tied down friends and neighbors and forced them to smoke cigarettes.
And wait. How is it that 2% of the US population and 0.25% of the world population is Jewish yet 27% and 28% of Nobel laureates in Physiology/Medicine or Chemistry, respectively, are Jewish? Seems more consistent, although not causal, that a little religion helps your science.

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The Reverend and the Rabbi: Martin Luther King, Jr., on science and religion

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From “Lesser Known Wise and Prophetic Words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by liberal writer and California Democratic Party delegate, Deborah White:

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.
The two are not rivals. They are complementary.
Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”

When I posted this quote two years ago, Right Wing Professor Gerald Gerard Harbison commented that some of the passage was taken from the writings of Rabbi Hillel Silver as noted at John Lerwell’s Spiritual Unity blog.
Writer and documentary filmmaker Tom Levenson then wrote a superb post, as is his style. Levenson analyzed the two passages, noting that Harbison had cherry-picked 66 or the 724 words for comparison, and dissected how the rabbi and the reverend approached the topic very differently:

More to the point, King actually makes a quite different claim than Silver. Silver’s argument, as represented in the Lerwill excerpt is an early version of the “non-overlapping magisteria” kind — Silver writes, for example, “There was never any real conflict between religion and science as such. There cannot be. Their respective worlds are different, though not in opposition. Their methods are dissimilar and their immediate objectives are not the same.”
King skipped all that part (and this kind of stuff is scattered through the Lerwill version). Instead, he focused on what he presumably felt was the nub of the issue: that science and religion have important points of connection.
That’s arguable too — and certainly, plenty of folks in the science blogging community find the notion anathema. But King did not follow Silver down the road of intellectual apartheid, an agreement to reserve certain matters for the exclusive authority of one side or other.
In music there is an old notion (now legally enshrined, I believe) that a repetition of more than a few notes of a passage is an actual act of imitation. Less than that, and it is presumed that there is a kind of musical language that everyone gets to speak. Maybe the four word phrase “Science investigates; religion interprets” crosses the line. But King had his own mind, and said something quite different than did the source of at least some of his expression.

I’ve looked long and hard to find cases where Dr. King held forth on science. But his values can clearly be applied to the scientific realm, particularly as it relates to recruitment and engagement of underrepresented minority groups in the STEMM disciplines.
Our ScienceOnline2010 session held yesterday sought to bring Dr. King’s spirit of inclusion and education equality into the realm of social media. An issue I raised there but did not develop was that a great many of my science students, particularly of Hispanic/Latino or southern US African-American backgrounds, cite their religious beliefs as a primary motivator in pursuing a health sciences or pharmaceutical research career. Rather than religion being at odds with the scientific method, they feel that their faith fuels their desire to apply the scientific method in the name of relieving human suffering. The duality of religious beliefs and hypothesis-driven inquiry is certainly an intellectual challenge but one that I respect.
I welcome any King scholars in pointing me to any other discussions where the civil rights leader discussed issues of science.
Photo credit: Library of Congress, believed to be in the public domain

Chris Mooney with a New Year’s resolution for practicing scientists: engage more with the public and the media

Steve Silberman and Rebecca Skloot just pointed out to me an editorial from science writer Chris Mooney that has appeared online and will be in the Sunday, January 3rd edition of The Washington Post.
In the essay, “On issues like global warming and evolution, scientists need to speak up,” Mooney continues his longstanding call to scientists to take ownership in combating scientific misinformation, invoking the very weak response of the scientific community to the aftermath of e-mails and documents hacked from the Climatic Research Institute at the University of East Anglia.

The central lesson of Climategate is not that climate science is corrupt. The leaked e-mails do nothing to disprove the scientific consensus on global warming. Instead, the controversy highlights that in a world of blogs, cable news and talk radio, scientists are poorly equipped to communicate their knowledge and, especially, to respond when science comes under attack.
A few scientists answered the Climategate charges almost instantly. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, whose e-mails were among those made public, made a number of television and radio appearances. A blog to which Mann contributes, RealClimate.org, also launched a quick response showing that the e-mails had been taken out of context. But they were largely alone. “I haven’t had all that many other scientists helping in that effort,” Mann told me recently.

Could we have done anything differently?
I agree to some extent but, in this particular case, I don’t think that any concerted effort by scientific communicators could have overcome the bleating by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck that took one or two statements out of context from among 1,073 e-mails and a million words, claiming proof of a massive global scientific conspiracy to manufacture climate change warnings.
The problem is that when one’s statements are not bound by facts, you can pretty much say whatever you want; that will be the first thing uncritical sycophants hear and remember.
It took several weeks for the AP to release its own investigative findings of the stolen documents to show that while there were petty and heated disagreements about specific data, nothing was faked. But by that time, science had lost a lot of ground to climate skeptics as detailed in an article Mooney cites:

Scientists themselves also come in for more negative assessments in the poll, with four in 10 Americans now saying that they place little or no trust in what scientists have to say about the environment. That’s up significantly in recent years. About 58 percent of Republicans now put little or no faith in scientists on the subject, double the number saying so in April 2007. Over this time frame, distrust among independents bumped up from 24 to 40 percent, while Democrats changed only marginally. Among seniors, the number of skeptics more than doubled, to 51 percent.

When a large segment of the public puts their faith in right wing miscreants that somehow have huge audiences, I have trouble seeing how scientists can respond no matter how many facts they have in their pockets or how effectively they communicate. I don’t mean to sound defeatist but I think that responding to so-called Climategate was incredibly difficult no matter how well-prepared the scientific community could have been. This single crystallizing event was far more understandable to people than decades of climate research, starting primarily with the fact that the average person seems to associate the daily weather with climatological trends. Add to this mix a media empire with people who manufacture apparent facts by repeating untruths (i.e., Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11) and feeding the American love for a good conspiracy theory.
I’m just not sure how good Climategate is as an example of a failure by scientists to communicate with the public.
“Many refuse to try; others go to the opposite extreme of advocating vociferous and confrontational atheism.”
After discussing his expert area of devastating hurricanes, Mooney then raises some excellent points about countering the denial of evolution by acknowledging that for many, evolution is an issue not of science but of faith.

“Many Christians, including fundamentalists, can accept evolution as long as it is not attached to the view that life has no purpose,” Karl Giberson, a Christian physicist and the author of “Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution,” told me recently. “Human life has value, and any scientific theory that even appears to deny this central religious affirmation will alienate people of faith and create opportunity for those who would rally believers against evolution.”

This quarter of the essay will likely be the part that will create froth and lather in the blogosphere so I will mostly leave it for other commentators. Most of my day-to-day colleagues are moderately to strongly religious and many use their faith as motivators for their careers in the biomedical sciences. Many religious people in my community are huge fans of science. I contend that some degree of spirituality can co-exist with science. We’re not going to talk people out of their faith; there is far more common ground here for us in science with a large swath of the US population who are religious and open to and often embrace scientific discourse.

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The Friday Fermentable: The Presidential Beer Summit Edition

I absolutely guarantee that the President wanted a fine, handcrafted American ale. But I am certain that the conservative press would’ve jumped this as an “elitist” choice as they did his campaign comments on arugula.
Instead, he chose Bud Light.
The President had a choice to promote the craft-brewing industry in the US – the most noble and patriotic of pursuits shared by our Founding Fathers.
Instead, craft brewers across the country – nay, perhaps the world – let forth a collective “D’oh” upon the announcement of the President’s watered-down choice.

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Triangle Tweetup tonight

I only signed up for Twitter (@abelpharmboy) on 21 January but have found it incredibly valuable for staying up to speed on blogs, MSM articles, local and national news, and science and medicine stories. I’ve already accumulated 284 “followers” which is about half of our daily blog visitors. I’d say that about 60% of those are not spammers.
Well tonight in the Bull City, there is an event called Triangle Tweetup, a meetup of local Twitter users at Bronto Nation Software (@bronto). I’m going as are a few bloggers our readers may know such as Bora Zivkovic and foodie, jewelry-maker, and artist, Lenore Ramm.
fullsteam.jpgPerhaps most relevant to me, and readers of our Friday Fermentable feature, is that Fullsteam Brewery founder, Sean Wilson, and brewmaster Chris will be there pouring samples of their offerings. Latest word has them pouring their flagship beer, Carolina Common, and one of their local-ag beers, Sweet Potato Amber. This is absolutely tremendous for me as Fullsteam is still in the brewery-in-planning period and has yet to offer beer for sale or even secure a site for their brewery and pub. (Also just saw that Lone Rider Brewing Company will be there.).
But otherwise, I have absolutely no idea what a tweetup is for. I think it is social networking in meatspace. There will be 200+ people there and I recognize very, very few from the signup list. Will we have to speak to each other in sentences that comprise 140 characters or less?
Who are you people and why are you going?

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Tancredo Protest at UNC; Denver Schooling on Scriptures

Serendipity. Me and Tancredo, of all people.
Start here: The press has been buzzing today about former Colorado congressman and US presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo, having to cut a speech short yesterday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill due to protesters on his stance toward illegal/unauthorized immigration to the US. With regard to state universities, Tancredo is opposed to granting in-state college tuition to children whose parents came to the US outside of legal immigration procedures.
I am not a fan of Tancredo or his policies. The time has come in this country for us to deal once and for all with an issue we have been ignoring for decades, with humanity and compassion for those who have escaped poverty and taken on service jobs most Americans would not. With regard to children of illegal immigrants, my colleagues Sandra Porter and Isis have spoken eloquently and passionately about a solution: the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) Act. As Isis responded to a commenter:

For many who immigrate to the US, coming here isn’t like moving from the city to the suburbs to get an extra garage bay and a bigger backyard. They flee disease and hunger. They flee oppressive governments. The flee outrageous infant mortality. And they often flee with an idea of what the American dream really means, wanting to work to obtain it. In their native countries there’d be no opportunity for education. To ask them to return home to “fight for it their” would be akin to asking them to return home to die.

However, I am disappointed that student protesters created a scene at UNC yesterday, involving broad pepper spray and Taser threats, that made immigration reform supporters appear as intolerant as the Tancredo camp (higher ed reporter Eric Ferreri posted Tancredo’s official comments here at his Campus Notes blog.)
I would’ve preferred a debate and engagement with Tancredo such as that which occurred at the University of Denver with Colorado’s first Black Speaker of the State House, Terrance Carroll.

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Seder supper with the NC blog hive courtesy of the Coturnix family

My deepest gratitude goes out this morning to Bora Zivkovic, Mrs. Coturnix, and family for hosting what was for my daughter and I our first Seder supper. The evening was made even more special with Sheril Kirshenbaum, her BF and his labmate, Lisa (I’m sorry I don’t know your full name but I do remember you got your recipe for the spicy matzah dish from The Southern Jewish Cookbook), Anton Zuiker and his wife, and all our kids – celebrating as Bora said, in “a very secular/humanist/feminist/environmentalist way, focusing on good company, good food and good wine.” Speaking of the latter, I hope to have something to say tomorrow on the fantastic Israeli wines that Mrs. Coturnix and I selected for the evening.
Everyone around these parts knows Bora as the guy through whom the internet must stream directly before going out to the rest of the world. But what first struck me when first meeting Bora over three years ago is that while blogs can build an international community, they also have an equally important role in building our local communities. I doubt that my daily professional and personal life would have brought me together with these remarkable people had it not been for our common interests as blogging scientists and writers.
So many thanks to you, Bora, and to Mrs. Coturnix, for enriching my life and that of our children.
I also want to give a shout-out to PalMD, like Bora another atheist Jew, for his thought-provoking post on the uniting themes of these Spring festivals that we might draw regardless of the role religion does or doesn’t play in our lives.
Pal, I know you say you don’t write about religion but this was yet another exceptionally well-written post. The goyim are grateful.

“What does Jewish look like?” – Vanessa Hidary, The Hebrew Mamita

Even though it’s Saturday morning, drinking coffee while getting ready to take the PharmKid to ballet class, I’m not usually one to throw up YouTube videos as blog posts without any context.
However, my dear friend, frequent commenter, and devoted traffic-driver, anjou, passed this along to me.
I’ve never really gotten into the whole spoken-word / poetry slam movement but maybe it’s because I haven’t been paying attention. We also don’t have HBO so I’ve never seen Def Poetry, where these Vanessa Hidary performances aired.
Even if you aren’t Jewish or a woman, these two are worth every second of the six minutes it’ll take to go through both.



Then, go to Vanessa’s MySpace site and listen to “Brooklyn,” but with earbuds if there are little kids around. (Her personal website is currently being revamped.).
And then, since you’re now hooked on Vanessa Hidary, read this 2003 article in Jewish World Review.
How have I missed this woman?

The separation of church and state supplements

I just started receiving a bunch of Google referral hits from readers searching for a story about the US Federal Trade Commission apparently taking regulatory action against a church that is selling supplements claimed to exhibit anti-cancer activities.
The article in question, “Tyrannical FTC Threatens Christian Church with Imprisonment for Selling Dietary Supplements,” was written by a gentleman named Mike Adams, an editor at NaturalNews.com. I’m not exactly certain at this point what the specific FTC actions are today since the article is rife with rantings and rhetoric:

The FTC has unleashed a new assault against both dietary supplements and religious freedoms by targeting a Christian church for termination. Through exclusive interviews and conversations with health freedom attorney Jim Turner (http://www.naturalnews.com/Index-Podcas…), NaturalNews has learned that the church Daniel Chapter One (www.DanielChapterOne.com) has been targeted by the FTC for destruction.

While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is largely responsible for regulating foods, drugs, and medical devices for safety and approved claims, the FTC has often stepped in on dietary supplement sales where claims being made might be considered fraudulent, deceptive, or otherwise untrue.
The FTC action on Daniel Chapter One cited today was actually released back on 18 September 2008 as part of 11 actions against companies marketing bogus cancer “cures”:

Daniel Chapter One – This company markets several herbal formulations as well as shark cartilage. According to the complaint, in addition to making deceptive and false claims that these products effectively prevent, treat, and cure cancer, the respondents also claim that one of their herbal formulations mitigates the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. In addition to the FTC action announced today, this company received a warning letter from FDA.

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