Anti-Creationist OpEd from Lawrence Krauss
(in New Scientist, 6/18/2008)

TOPIC: anti-creationism

If you're worried about the teaching of science in our public schools, but the irony is not lost on you when scientists use ad hominem attacks and blogwrite smug anti-creationist rants that serve only to entertain the blogger's worshippers, you'll enjoy more considered commentaries like this one by Lawrence Krauss in the New Scientist:

Krauss doesn't rant. Instead, he points out quite reasonably that those making the decisions about school curriculum should have the credentials appropriate for the job:

When public committees appraise existing knowledge in order to set educational standards, or report on the status of scientific knowledge for use in the public domain, the people involved should be required to demonstrate independent, relevant expertise. School board members should not be beholden to those who have elected them, nor should they represent political constituencies. They should instead be appointed by elected officials following thorough vetting and peer review.

The health of a modern society depends on the opportunities it provides its children through education. That's too important to be left to amateurs, much less enemies of knowledge.

Of course, there is also another issue here I've only begun to ponder carefully: why do we have these so-called educational boards in the first place to establish statewide mandates on school system curricula?

Now, before you roll your eyes and blast me for being naive, realize I'm most definitely not suggesting that such curricula should be "anything goes." Far from it.

What I wonder is this: why is it that we allow our kids to be taught, and the schools to be locally administered, by individuals who don't already know what's appropriate to be taught in biology class, or chemistry class, or English class, etc? Who are the high school biology teachers we hire that have to be told, "oh, by the way, you need to teach them what a cell is, how plant cells are different from animal cells, … and, oh! by the way, teach them something about evolution, and oh! while you're at it remind them that there are still a few details about that evolution-thing that haven't been worked out yet."

Real Physics

TOPIC: real physics &mdash humor from wulfmorgenthaler.com



More Good News On Gay Rights: Marriage In California

TOPIC: gay rights, gay marriage

The news and pictures are heartwarming, and not without considerable irony when you think about the irrational objections of homophobes and gay bashers across the country. With ranting illogic about how gay rights threaten to destroy our society and eat away at so-called family values, gender-bigots across the country have smugly denied gays legal rights on par with heteros — often viciously attacking gays and gay rights groups for "living in sin" and (ignorantly) accusing gays of not being capable of long-term healthy, loving romantic relationships, then refusing to grant gays who want it the legal right to publicly dedicate themselves to and proclaim these long-term (healthy) relationships in the same way heteros everywhere are allowed.

So what do we as a society say to Del Martin (age 87) and Phyllis Lyon (age 84) who have been together for more than 50 years (!) but until now haven't been allowed to wed? As a society we've not only disallowed them a host of legal rights with numerous implications for their lives and the lives of their relatives, but as a society we've forcibly disallowed for them the basic sociocultural roles that we then criticize them for not being able to fulfill — the roles of functional, nurturing, embedded-in-society de facto families.

They do: First same-sex couple — women in their 80s — wed in California

Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 84, tied the knot at 5:01 p.m. PT in San Francisco City Hall, marking the first same-sex marriage in California.

Martin and Lyon, who have been together for more than 50 years, repeated the vows they said four years ago, when Mayor Gavin Newsom declared that gay and lesbian couples could get married in the city. His decision was later overturned, but the state Supreme Court ruled last month that same-sex marriages were constitutionally protected.

I fear the country isn't ready. Sexist and racist language and behavior are still pervasive, if not as explicit and openly condoned as it once was. Gender bigotry is still at full boil.

I admire the courage and passion I see in the gay couples taking advantage of this opportunity right now in the face of national and world attention and while the anonymous gender bigots swamp the web commentaries on the news articles with their hate and fear and bible thumping. Of course, these daring couples face more direct animosity as well:

They may face opponents such as protesters in San Francisco waving signs reading "Homo Sex is Sin" and similar warnings.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, predicted "months of social chaos that could wreak havoc on every state in America."

He said California's new policy "threatens to undo thousands of years of natural marriage."

In such responses I see fear. I see outright hatred and intolerance. I see men and women moved by strong emotion to outrageous claims and offensive behavior.

But I don't see the logic. I certainly don't see compassionate humanity. In fact, I suspect when we lose the logic we quite often lose the compassionate humanity along with it.

I am hoping that California's newest effort in recognizing the rights of its gay citizens will hold … and eventually grow and spread.

Related References

Henderson, P. & Beck, A. (6/16/2008). California gays, lesbians marry legally. News Daily, accessed 6/17/2008 at website http://www.newsdaily.com/stories/n16257382-marriage-gays/

Henderson, P. & Chatterjee, S. (6/17/2008). California gay couples rush to wed as vote looms. News Daily, accessed 6/17/2008 at web site http://www.newsdaily.com/stories/n17360382-marriage-gay/

Winter, Michael (2008). They do: First same-sex couple — women in their 80s — wed in California. Accessed Tues 6/17/2008 at web site http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2008/06/they-do-first-s.html


RAND Study:
Virginity Pledge Works (Sometimes),
But Only For Those Who've Already Pledged

TOPICS: adolescent sex & culture, misleading news releases

ResearchBlogging.org The news release picked up by Science Daily (among others) from RAND corp about a recent study of virginity pledges touts the potential effectiveness of such pledges:

Virginity Pledges May Help Postpone Intercourse Among Youth

Making a virginity pledge may help some young people postpone the start of sexual activity, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Researchers found that adolescents who made pledges to remain virgins until they are married were less likely to be sexually active over the three-year study period than other youth who were similar to them, but who did not make a virginity pledge, according to the study published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Just two problems: (1) It's not quite true, and (2) The not-quite-true part is going to be lost in the mire of the popular press reporting and mindless copying of the news.

The actual research study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (June 5, 2008), is actually titled: "Virginity Pledges Among the Willing: Delays in First Intercourse and Consistency of Condom Use," and unlike the news release being propagated by various consumers of headline-bites, includes the phrase "among the willing."

After careful statistical analysis to compensate for considerable pre-existing differences between pledgers and non-pledgers, the researchers

… estimate that in the absence of pledging 42.4% of virgins with characteristics indicating an inclination to pledge initiate intercourse within 3 years; in the presence of the pledge, 33.6% of such youth initiate intercourse.

The problem though here is that those who willingly made such a virginity pledge self-selected themselves into that action. Regardless of the propensity-score weighting process to reduce selection bias, ultimately the individuals with an "inclination to pledge" chose not to and those that did pledge selected themselves into the pledge group, making that group fundamentally different from the other group. In other words, this "actually pledged" vs. "inclination to pledge" characteristic is just as likely to be a characteristic of the personality or philosophy of people who would, or would not, have delayed sexual intercourse anyway, regardless of the actual commitment to a virginity pledge, and thus might just as well serve absolutely no causal effect in the chain of events leading to delayed sexual intercourse.

In fact, the lack of causal role for the pledge is suggested by the further result that

Among those who had sex during this period, pledging was unassociated with condom use. Among those who did not have sex during this period, pledging was unassociated with engagement in noncoital sexual behavior.

But even if we take the data at face value, we must remember that any such pledge-increased postponement of sex occurs only among the group of adolescents already willingly inclined to make such a pledge anyway, and within that group only by less than 10 percentage pts. As the authors themselves carefully note:

Our findings should not be taken as evidence that virginity pledges should be imposed upon adolescents. For youth who want to have sex and whose social environments support doing so, pledging is not likely to be an effective means of delaying sexual initiation (and it is doubtful that sincere pledges could be elicited from such youth). These youth need sex education that helps reduce sexual risk taking and unintended pregnancy, as do the substantial number of pledgers who eventually have sex [Santelli, Ott, Lyon, Rogers, & Summers (2006)]. Moreover, it is questionable whether being coerced into making a pledge will be effective even for teens who have characteristics like those of teens who pledge voluntarily. Psychological theory would suggest that pledging will have an effect on behavior to the extent that the pledger believes he or she freely chose to make a pledge [Festinger (1957)].

— Martino, et al. (2008)
emphasis mine

I am pessimistic that the authors' more careful conclusions and recommendations will be noticed. Instead I fear we're in for more naive calls for "abstinence education" and coerced virginity pledges.

A summary of the online article appears below.

Article Summary


Martino, S.C., Elliot, M.N., Collins, R.L., Kanouse, D.E., Berry, S.H. (2008). Virginity Pledges Among the Willing: Delays in First Intercourse and Consistency of Condom Use. Journal of Adolescent Health, In Press

General Methodology National telephone survey in 2001, with follow up 1 and 3 yrs later, using a purchsed national list of households with high prob of containing a 12–17 yr-old. Parents mailed explanation of the study in advance.

Participants and Sample Size(s) 1,461 12-17 yr-old participants in the 3-year follow-up (73% of the baseline sample), with notable attrition patterns. 47% female; 68% white; 14% African American; 12% Hispanic.

Conditions/Manipulationsno manipulations

Dependent Measures included Questions assessing sexual behavior with someone of the opposite sex, including the extent/nature of such encounter(s), and the use of condoms;
virginity pledge status: "Have you made a public or written promise to not have sex before marriage (yes/no)?";
various other covariates, such as age, sex, race, siblings, religiosity, self-esteem, sexual knowledge, etc.

Other Measures none


Of baseline sample of virgins, 23.8% reported having made a virginity pledge;
More generallly: 17% had intercourse by baseline; 29% at 1-yr; 53% at 3-yr;
Of teens reporting intercourse in year prior to 3-yr follow-up, 42% reported "less than consistent condom use."

ultimately, primary question addressed was whether "among adolescents who have characteristics associated with being inclined to make a virginity pledge, making a virginity pledge delays sexual initiation."

42.4% of 12-17 yr-old virgins who were the type inclined to make a virginity pledge init'd sexual intercourse within 3 yrs in the absence of making a pledge, whereas 33.6% initiated sexual intercourse in the presence of such a pledge.

also various correlates with pledgers vs. non-pledgers, including differences in relgiosity, monitoring by parents, peer pressures, etc.


The authors are careful to note that the "… findings should not be taken as evidence that virginity pledges should be imposed upon adolescents. For youth who want to have sex and whose social environments support doing so, pledging is not likely to be an effective means of delaying sexual initiation (and it is doubtful that sincere pledges could be elicited from such youth). These youth need sex education that helps reduce sexual risk taking and unintended pregnancy, as do the substantial number of pledgers who eventually have sex [Santelli, Ott, Lyon, Rogers, & Summers (2006)]. Moreover, it is questionable whether being coerced into making a pledge will be effective even for teens who have characteristics like those of teens who pledge voluntarily. Psychological theory would suggest that pledging will have an effect on behavior to the extent that the pledger believes he or she freely chose to make a pledge [Festinger (1957)]."

Related References

Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.

Martino, S. C., Elliott, M. N., Collins, R. L., Kanouse, D. E., & Berry, S. H. (2008). Virginity Pledges Among the Willing: Delays in First Intercourse and Consistency of Condom Use. Journal of Adolescent Health, Articles in Press, available online 6/5/2008. [doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2008.02.018]

Santelli, J., Ott, M. A., Lyon, M., Rogers, J., & Summers, D. (2006). Abstinence-only education policies and programs: a position paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38, 83–87.


Personal Data & Privacy Still Being Sacrificed On Facebook

TOPIC: facebook social network privacy risks

I've been consumed with class and lab preparations this first week of summer school, so haven't had the energy to blog for a few days.

But like so many (all?) of my undergraduate students here at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, I have a facebook page and have tinkered with it some over the past year or two, enjoying some of the extra connectivity it gives me to students (and faculty). Some of my students and friends have impressive facebook pages — some impressive in creativity, others impressive with their own form of blogging about their everyday lives and concerns, still others impressive with their ability to capture so much in their amateur photography.

I've often warned some of them about sharing too much on their pages, reminding them that future employers (e.g.) will be searching such social networking sites. Stupid pictures and off-color remarks can develop a frightening life of their own. And of course, facebook stalking is a concern.

Now there's even more to worry about. Turns out all the crazy, lovable, weird, and hated widgets and add-on applications now available (over 24k of them !?) routinely expose users' personal information to strangers:

Like David Dixon (quoted in the article), I too wondered "Why does a Sudoku puzzle have to know I have two kids? Why does a postcard need to know where I went to college?" But I naively assumed there was some good (and safe) reason for the widgets to need access to my personal info … perhaps this was needed in some technical way generally for the widget to install itself … (I thought hopefully) ? Mostly what surprises me here is how gullible I still am. And now I am wondering just what the widget developers are doing with all that data.

I'm also still wondering what drives so many people to put their personal information out there. Why share information hourly about our moods? Why worry daily about updating friends on exactly what we're doing or where we're going to be? As much as the phenomenon of social networking itself, the underlying generally unexamined motivations for participating are ripe for research.

Related References

Hart, Kim (2008). A Flashy Facebook Page, at a Cost to Privacy: Add-Ons to Online Social Profiles Expose Personal Data to Strangers. WashingtonPost.com, Thursday 12 June 2008, accessed 6/12/2008 at website http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/11/AR2008061103759.html


World Science Festival

TOPIC: science for the masses?

A World Science Festival? Yep, the first World Science Festival took place recently in New York City. As reported in the New York Times, the 5-day festival drew large crowds, and most if not all events were sold out, even with multiple festival events running concurrently. Looking over the events and participants (see http://www.worldsciencefestival.com), perhaps that's not entirely surprising. The originators of the festival—Columbia physicist Brian Greene and his wife, Tracy Day, a former producer for ABC news—put together an fascinating and enticing collection of more than 30 events celebrating and exploring science, with a world-renowned cast of players. With an estimated 120,000 people in attendance, the inaugural event drew enthusiastic crowds and greater than anticipated interest; plans are already underway for another festival next May.

I'd be interested to know more about the demographics of the Festival attendees. Relative to the population of and tourism in New York City, 120,000 attendees is somewhat less remarkable. Or is it? Perhaps that depends not only on the number in attendance, but on other characteristics of those in attendance.

Regardless, it's intriguing to consider science festivals as an addition to our array of cultural events. As Brian Greene, physicist and co-founder of the World Science Festival states, "The World Science Festival aims to spark a movement where science shifts from the cultural outskirts to the cultural center."

In Texas: Two Systems of Science ?

TOPIC: creationism in Texas

Texas is not just a big state — it's also a huge consumer of public school textbooks, and the textbook publishers are understandably and entrepreneurally eager to meet the demand.

Thus many people are alarmed to see a confluence of events (further?) threatening the future of critical thinking in the Lone Star State:

(1) According to The New York Times, "Starting this summer, the [Texas] state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade" (Beil, 2008).

A relatively innocuous event — education boards across the country are working on such things all the time. Realize, though, that

… the Board, the commissioner, and the Agency facilitate the operation of a vast public school system consisting of 1,227 school districts and charter schools, more than 7,900 campuses, more than 590,000 educators and other employees, and more than 4.5 million schoolchildren. [Texas Education Agency (TEA) website]

So the decisions being made here have huge and direct implications for a very large population, and indirect implications for millions of others (non-Texans) whose school systems will be influenced by the actions of the TEA.

(2) Texas governor Rick Perry, like all politicians, has a mixed record, with laudable efforts to increase access to health care and increase school funding, to reform the state's juvenile justice system, to divest state pension funds of companies doing business with Iran, and to encourage the wide-spread adoption of the human papillomavirus vaccine. Serious causes for concern, though, are: the governor's stance on Texan anti-sodomy laws (Perry called them "appropriate"), homosexuality and gays in the Boy Scouts (he's against both), and gay marriage (he supported the Defense of Marriage act; see http://christiannews.christianet.com/1098362715.htm).

In particular, however, the Texas governor has trouble separating his religious practices from his governmental office, and claims to believe in the literal truth of the bible. For example, in a recent interview for ChristiaNet, Perry said "that it was not out of the ordinary for him to pray throughout the day - even in the midst of official meetings." (Texas Governor Rick Perry, http://christiannews.christianet.com/1098362715.htm). In The Dallas Morning News, Perry also confirmed that

… he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and that those who don't accept Jesus as their savior will go to hell.

Mr. Perry said Sunday that the acceptance of Christ is what his faith teaches, and he could not abandon that any more than anyone can pick which of the 10 Commandments they chose to follow. He would not argue with God's wisdom, he said.

"I doubt if any one human being can grasp all of his wisdom … " (Hoppe, 2006).

And lest you think Perry's deeply-held religious beliefs will not translate into political action, he recently appointed Don McLeroy as chair of the Texas State Board of Education (Stutz, 2007) (see item (3) below). (3) The current chair of the State Board of Education is Don McLeroy. According to his bio on the TEA website, McLeroy is a dentist in Bryan-College Station, Tx., holds a BS in electrical engineering from Texas A & M University and a Doctor of Dental Science degree from The University of Texas Dental Branch in Houston, is a fourth-grade Sunday school teacher at Grace Bible Church in College Station and has been active in youth soccer and Boy Scouts.

McLeroy is also a young-earth creationist, and thinks of creationism as an alternative scientific "system:"

Dr. McLeroy, the board chairman, sees the debate as being between “two systems of science.”

“You’ve got a creationist system and a naturalist system,” he said.

Dr. McLeroy believes that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event — thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion. “I believe a lot of incredible things,” he said, “The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe.”

But Dr. McLeroy says his rejection of evolution — “I just don’t think it’s true or it’s ever happened” — is not based on religious grounds. Courts have clearly ruled that teachings of faith are not allowed in a science classroom, but when he considers the case for evolution, Dr. McLeroy said, “it’s just not there.” (Beil, 2008).

Of course, in the same interview, McLeroy assures us that "My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science" (Beil, 2008).

But how can his religious beliefs not affect this process?

In this interview by Evan Smith on Texas Monthly Talks, originally broadcast 5/1/2008, McLeroy appears in many ways to be an intelligent, well-meaning man, earnest in his desire to safeguard the Texas public school system:

But the interview is alarming in a number of ways.

For example, in an interview ostensibly about McLeroy in his service as chair of the State Board of Education, McLeroy almost immediately interjects his religious convictions into the conversation. As he recites a brief biography, McLeroy notes that he “met this wonderful gal, became a Christian at that point …" He goes on say that he has "40 yrs experience with public education, 12 in Texas public education," a notably disingenuous and misleading claim based on not just serving on school boards but also based on his "own time in public schools, [and] the time my sons spent"! According to McLeroy’s bio on the TEA website, he began his "experience" in Texas public education when he was first elected to the Bryan Independent School District Board of Trustees in 1997. So in the first minute or so of this interview, we know (a) McLeroy is a Christian, (b) he wants to inject his religious beliefs into his public service (why raise the issue otherwise?), and (c) he likes to mislead and exaggerate.

After discussing aspects of the board's current work on English standards, McLeroy makes the offhand comment that “soon will take on the science standards," and then goes on to talk about issues in the teaching of evolution, characterizing the debate as one about "teaching the strengths and weaknesses." But it becomes painfully clear that he's not talking about "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory so much as what he personally sees as fatal flaws for which alternative theories must be provided, citing as so-called weaknesses some of the standard creationist topics of (1) gaps in the fossil record; (2) the Cambrian explosion; (3) the complexity of living organisms; and (4) a critique (I'm not yet familiar with) based on some concept of information and design. About this time he condenscendingly mentions Eugenie Scott and disingenuously (or perhaps just confusedly) equates his own criticisms of evolutionary theory with Scott's encouragement that students should be able to explain how (for example) the Cambrian explosion poses challenges for our current understanding of evolutionary processes.


So … to summarize: (1) we have major curriculum decisions looming in one of the largest states in the union; (2) whose governor prays during meetings, thinks the bible is a source of inerrant truth, and thinks all non-Christians will go to hell, and has appointed a young-earth creationist as chair of the Stated Board of Education; and (3) said chair makes a point of interjecting his religious beliefs into the public arena and feels that evolution and creationism are just two different "systems" of science.


Can't wait to see what happens next.

Related References

Beil, Laura (2008). Opponents of evolution adopting a new strategy. The New York Times, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/04/us/04evolution.html.

Hoppe, C. (2006). Perry believes non-Christians doomed: Governor shares views following sermon; rivals pounce. The Dallas Morning News, 11/06/2006, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/110606dnTSWperry.351c57c.html.

Smith, E. (2008) Interview with Don McLeroy on klru: Texas Monthly Talks, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.klru.org/texasmonthlytalks/archives/mcleroy/movies/mcleroy_hi.html

Stutz, T. (2007). Conservative to lead state education board: Perry picks chairman as panel prepares to revisit several course standards. The Dallas Morning News, 7/18/2007, accessed 6/4/2006 at website http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/DN-sboe_18tex.ART.State.Edition1.3bba4d6.html

Texas Education Agency (TEA) website, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.tea.state.tx.us/.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (interview published on Christiannews.Christianet.com, no date supplied). Accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://christiannews.christianet.com/1098362715.htm


Dancing Computer Science Professors

TOPIC: bright spot on a gray day

A few days ago I came upon one of my academic colleagues, ipod in hand, dancing along a country lane. I was touched. "A bright spark in an otherwise gray day," I wrote to her later.

Those of you looking for a great college, come to
nestled on a wooded mountain top in southern Tennessee, teeming with deer and rabbits and squirrels and wild blackberries, where even the computer science professors can be caught (occasionally) dancing along the country lanes.


Computer Simulation of the Evolution of Religious Belief

TOPIC: evolution of religion

Adding to the general melee that is the debate about the evolution of religious belief, here's some stimulating news about a computer simulation created by evolutionary anthropologist James Dow (Oakland University in Rochester, Mi):

and the original research paper can be found here: Is Religion an Evolutionary Adaptation?

I'll take some time soon to blog more carefully on the original paper, but immediately tantalizing was the general concept: a computer simulation of interactions between "believers" and "non-believers," with the believers eventually flourishing! How cool … but of course this all depends on the assumptions built into the simulation. How were "believers" and "non-believers" defined? What type of interactions were being modeled? And how was adaptive fitness defined?

Dow used a co-evolutionary agent-based model allowing for influences of both genetically determined behavior and learned behavior. Dow explains that

The model does not include a large external storehouse of cultural memory, such as books or databases, from which agents learn. Therefore, it is more applicable to an early, pre-literate culture than to a modern civilization. The brain underwent most of its evolution when people lived such cultures. [§2.4]

The simulated agents have both inherited and learned capacities to communicate "real information" vs. "unreal information." The assumptions here are that:

Real communication carries information about the environment that the receiver can use to increase its fitness. Unreal communication carries no information about the environment and may decrease the fitness of the receiver by diverting its attention. Religious communication is of the unreal type. Although religious communication has benefits, these have nothing to do with the information in the communication. It is precisely the lack of material real-world information that defines religious belief. The simulation examines how unreal communication can evolve by means of social selection. [§2.5]

So "believers" are essentially defined as communicators of unreal information, and eventually fitness is manifest in terms of the number of offspring an agent leaves when it dies. Agent fitness is affected in the simulation, though, through the complex interactions (communications) among the multiple agents. Basically: agents that receive real information increase in fitness; agents who receive unreal information decrease in fitness. But an agent's tendency to communicate either type of information is affected by the type of information being received from other agents, a form of cultural learning.

In most of the simulations, the general population increases and the non-believers dominate the believers — under these basic conditions, populations increase, but the gene frequencies for real communication rise and those for unreal communication fall.

The interesting variant occurs, prompting the article title and the pop media coverage, when Dow plays with the greenbeard parameter that determines with whom an agent communicates. [see the Green-beard effect on wikipedia]. The simulations mentioned so far used greenbeard = 0, designating that the agents with whom an agent communicates is chosen randomly from a uniform distribution of the agents (i.e. no agents are preferred for communication). When Dow incorporates the greenbeard effect, then "If one agent sees that another agent is more likely to communicate unreal information, it can select that agent as a recipient of its communication with a greater probability." Basically, Dow simulates a situation in which agents are more likely to communicate with agents that themselves are more likely to disseminate unreal information.

Under such conditions, we see the population of believer agents eventually thrive.

Now, why would one implement such a greenbeard effect in the simulation? That's not clear, and makes a nice topic for another post.

Related References

Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dow, James (2006). The Evolution of Religion: Three Anthropological Approaches. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 18(1), 67-91.

Dow, James (2007). A Scientific Definition of Religion. Anpere: Anthropological Perspectives on Religion <http://www.anpere.net/ccount/click.php?id=13>.

Dow, James (2008). Is religion an evolutionary adaptation? Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 11(22) <http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/11/2/2.html>.


Science is a Way Of Life — Brian Greene, 6/1/2008

TOPIC: Science (general)

Here's a nice New York Times op-ed piece by Brian Greene (6/1/2008), author of The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Elegant Universe.

After acknowledging the standard reasons cited for "why science matters," such as the fact that science is "woven into the fabric of our day-to-day activities … affects the quality of our lives" and is critical for problem-solving and making informed decisions, Greene continues:

But here’s the thing. The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

Later in a paragraph I would like to send to all my students who complain that science sucks out all the mystery and wonder of the world, Greene points out that:

It’s one thing to go outside on a crisp, clear night and marvel at a sky full of stars. It’s another to marvel not only at the spectacle but to recognize that those stars are the result of exceedingly ordered conditions 13.7 billion years ago at the moment of the Big Bang. It’s another still to understand how those stars act as nuclear furnaces that supply the universe with carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, the raw material of life as we know it.

Read the whole editorial yourself. It's a short and worthwhile read. I hope more and more people eventually agree with Greene that "Science is the greatest of all adventure stories …"

Related References

Easter, R., Greene, B. R., Jackson, M. G., & Kabat, D. (2005). String windings in the early universe. Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, 2005(2). [doi: 10.1088/1475-7516/2005/02/009]

Greene, Brian 1999, original hardcover). The elegant universe: superstrings, hidden dimensions, and the quest for the ultimate theory. W. W. Norton & Company.

Greene, Brian (2004, original hardcover). The fabric of the cosmos: space, time, and the texture of reality. Knopf Publishing Group.

Greene, B., Schalm, K., Shiu, G., & van der Schaar, J. P. (2005). Decoupling in an expanding universe: backreaction barely constrains short distance effects in the cosmic microwave background. Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, 2005(2). [doi: 10.1088/1475-7516/2005/02/001]