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Bill Nye’s “Don’t Teach Creationism…” Video Dissected by Business Communication Expert

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Have you seen the new video by Bill Nye called “Creationism is not appropriate for children”? The video simply shows Nye standing in front of a white background and speaking, for two minutes, thirty seconds. Yet almost three million people watched it on YouTube, and many discussed it on YouTube and Facebook. Some folks are cheering on Bill Nye for his sharp dismissal of the creationist viewpoint in favor of modern science. Others find fault with his take on the issue, disagreeing, or accusing him of talking down to his audience.

When I watched the video myself, I cringed. I was pretty sure that the video would do nothing for those who don’t believe in evolution but turn them away. However, I suspected that as an astrophysicist, my views on the subject could be somewhat limited. So I showed the video to business communication specialist Patrick Donadio to get his take on it and learn what I could about how we who support the teaching of evolution can be more effective communicators.

Patrick Donadio, MBA, is a professional speaker and a communications coach to the leaders of Fortune 500 companies. He has received his Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation from the National Speakers Association (NSA), a designation earned by less than 8% of NSA’s worldwide members. His book, Communicating with IMPACT, will be coming out next summer. One of Patrick’s specialties is helping people adapt their styles of communication to match their audiences.

MK: Patrick, can you sum up what you do in a sentence or two?

PD: Since 1986, I have been teaching and coaching leaders and their organizations to improve their presentation and verbal communication skills, enhance their credibility, deepen relationships, and boost performance and profits.

MK: Woah! That was a mouthful. OK, let’s start with some of the things Bill Nye clearly did well in his video.

PD: First of all, it is obvious he knows how to work the camera. You can tell he’s been on TV before, because he makes good eye contact. He talks to the listener by talking to the camera. He uses voice inflection and overall he appears professional. Also in his content he uses an example, a quote and even a question, all good ways to engage the audience. These are some of the areas he is doing well. I would say that in the first twenty seconds he did a nice job of pulling me in.

MK: Now, how would you improve this video, or make a better one?

PD: I would be careful of the language you choose. He said, “…your world view just becomes crazy…” Even though he didn’t call me crazy or call you crazy, people may start to think, “What, are you saying I’m crazy because I don’t believe in evolution?” So I would say, be careful of the language you use, especially if it might insult the listener.

But more importantly, think about the tone. He is trying to convince the viewer with what I call a “push” message. I would encourage him to shift it to more of a “pull” message.

MK: Pull instead of push. What does that mean?

PD: Instead of pushing people towards the sides [of the issue], I would try to pull them into the conversation. I might ask some rhetorical questions to get them to think about why they feel the way they do. Instead Bill is pushing out information, for example “if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it.”

He could say, “Scientific recent research shows us that we have evolved. I encourage you to explore this concept deeper. When you’re talking with your kids, I encourage you to allow them to discuss the issue with you and have a healthy dialogue.”

It is my belief that you can’t change someone’s opinion by trying to force—push—them to change. You can change their view by inviting—pulling—them to change. Winston Churchill once said. “I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like to be taught.”

MK: That makes sense.

PD: He says in the video what happens when you don’t believe in evolution. “Your world becomes complicated when you don’t believe in evolution”. But when you’re trying to convince somebody, it’s might be more helpful to say what happens when you do believe.

He might have said, “I want to encourage you to explore the concept that there is some truth to the idea of evolution. I don’t necessarily want to convince you today that you have to stop believing in creationism, rather to invite you today to be open the idea that evolution does exist. I don’t want to change you today; I want to challenge you to explore this concept a little deeper.” That’s a pull, verses a push.

MK: I like that: “I don’t want to change you, I want to challenge you”.

PD: Also some of his premises are faulty. Like his suggestion that you can’t be an engineer if you are a creationist. Well, I’m not sure that’s true. Many of his points are not really going to help convince me if I’m on the other side, because I’m finding a lot of holes in his examples. So who is his real audience? What is his intent for this video? These are two important questions to answer as your craft your message.

Let’s say there’s a continuum of beliefs around this issue. There are those people in the middle that you might be able to attract and of course, you have “either/ors” on sides of the continuum ; the creationists on one side and evolutionists on the other. The people in the middle have the potential for an “and/and” shift on this issue. You might be able to influence them. If we can move people from “either/or” to and/and, that would be a smaller move. This is a challenge sometimes for scientists, because many times scientists think in terms of black and white, “either/or”.

MK: I see, so you first try to take people to where they might consider that the science and their religious beliefs might be consistent and co-exist. Did you like that quote from Carl Sagan?

PD: A quote is good. But maybe this is not the best quote for his cause.

MK: Of course he quoted a scientist. I think if I were doing this video I would quote from a religious figure. Maybe from the Bible?

PD: Yes if you found a supportive quote that worked. His quote [from Carl Sagan] “When you’re in love you want to tell the world,” doesn’t really support his cause because someone on the other side could use this argument against him, For example, “Yes, I believe in creationism and want to tell the world about it.”

He could have also used an example or story of how a similar situation may have happened in the past. For example, Galileo and his theory of how the earth revolved around the sun. At the time many did not believe him and over time we have come to learn that this was in fact true.

MK: So if I could sum things up, Patrick, you suggested that you could improve the video by being careful with language, by asking questions, by explaining in positive language why you should consider believing in evolution, by using quotes from people your audience already trusts, by offering analogies or stories and by allowing for the possibility that both sides of the issue could be considered at once—for those people in the middle.

PD: And by understanding that changing peoples opinions is a process, not an event. If Bill Nye’s real intent was to convince people about evolution, then he has to look at this as a process. If he is thinking that in two minutes he’s going to do it–that’s “event” thinking. Don’t think “event,” think “process”. It takes time to influence people’s opinions.

Marc Kuchner About the Author: Marc Kuchner is the author of the book Marketing for Scientists published by Island Press. For more information, go to www.marketingforscientists.com or follow him on Twitter @marckuchner. Follow on Twitter @marckuchner.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






Comments 65 Comments

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  1. 1. jbohland 12:32 pm 09/2/2012

    No. PD is preaching fortune 500 HR department pablum while Nye is not pandering to the intellectually lazy. When something is fact, isn’t either/or (true/false) the only choice? How would PD “pull” the people that believe 1+1=3 into the tent of 1+1=2? Nye is not trying to get people to “believe” in evolution. Belief is not required. Knowledge is.

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  2. 2. Bora Zivkovic 12:52 pm 09/2/2012

    About the “…you can’t be an engineer if you are a creationist…” quote. There has been some discussion about it since the video came out, mainly by people in the trenches of the anti-Creationism wars. They know, as they have been fighting this fight for decades, that this has been discussed quite a lot in the past. In discussions of evolution vs. creationism, there are many people active on both sides. It is no surprise that most scientists active in these discussion are on the evolution side. Very few are on the creation side, and out of those, only a handful have PhDs in relevant scientific disciplines, e.g., paleontology, biochemistry, etc. Of course, both sides have their lawyers and dentists and physicians and people from all walks of life. What was always surprising was how many engineers align with the creationist side – they seem to be the most active, dominant and prolific members of the creationism side. Articles and blog posts (most probably lost to the vagaries of time, e.g., on Usenet groups in the 1990s) have been written wondering why that is, what is the difference between mindsets of scientists and engineers to make engineers so susceptible to creationist ideas. Most engineers are on the evolution side, but most vocal creationists online seem to be engineers – and obviously they are quite competent in designing bridges, airplanes and computers regardless of their stance on evolution, so the idea that evolutionary thinking is essential for engineering, at least many branches of engineering, is not supported by the actual situation on the ground.

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  3. 3. Bora Zivkovic 1:01 pm 09/2/2012

    Also important to avoid confusion. The way he is using the terms “push” and “pull” is not the way we in science communication use those terms. What he describes is something we may call “broadcast” vs. “engagement”, or “one-to-many” vs. “many-to-many”. But we have our own, quite precise definitions of “Push” and “Pull” in science communication:

    “Pull” means providing good science content in a science-specific venue, e.g., science blogs, popular science magazines, science sections of newspapers, science shows on radio, science programs on TV. Audiences that are pulled are those that are already interested in science and know where to look for it. You are pulling in the usual suspects, the people who already know that science is something they care about and actively seek.

    “Push” means placing science content in places where people are. For example, syndicating (or simultaneously publishing) your articles, videos, etc. on front pages of Huffington Post or Gawker or reddit or NYTimes. Or one’s own lay audiences on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. This is where people come for sports or politics or celebrity gossip or to chat with each other. They are not actively seeking science news. Yet they see the piece, click on it, read it, like it. If that happens a few times, that person may start realizing s/he actually likes science and is interested in it and starts actively looking for science content. The aim of Push method is to convert more people into the Pull mode.

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  4. 4. HowardB 1:07 pm 09/2/2012

    ” learn what I could about how we who support the teaching of evolution can be more effective communicators.”

    god help america when this kind of utter nonsense continues to be spread through publications like SciAm.

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  5. 5. RSchmidt 1:13 pm 09/2/2012

    It think that it is very important for scientists and science communicators to stand up for science, logic and intellectual process and speak directly to the issue of religion inspired denial of science and the continued belief that bronze age myths are facts. We have been overly tolerant and that has been mistaken for endorsement. People have mistaken the right to believe with the idea that whatever they believe is right. Will Bill Nye’s video convert creationists? probably not. But his voice joins a chorus of many other well known scientists and hopefully that will motivate people to question their beliefs. For many they simply know nothing else. When it is just one man saying that god is a delusion people can easily write him off as a fanatic, but when the scientific community joins together to say it, people can’t so easily dismiss it, though the agw deniers keep trying.

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  6. 6. RSchmidt 1:15 pm 09/2/2012

    @HowardB, please define “nonsense”. Is it following the evidence or is it believing without question bronze age myths?

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  7. 7. Bora Zivkovic 1:32 pm 09/2/2012

    Not sure @HowardB is talking about evolution. I think he is referring to a multi-year vicious fight between two factions, the people who propose “nice” tactics (like this post) and people who propose more direct and vocal tactics.

    Nice tactics work well in the trenches, in person, one-on-one, in classrooms and churches and living rooms. In the media, though, a direct method – like the one Bill Nye used in the video, is more effective. The two methods go hand in hand – without gentle people hand-holding friends in private, vocal voices are wasted. But without the vocal voices setting the stage and standards of what is reasonable discussion, nice people in the trenches have nothing to work with.

    It is also worth noting that the “be nice” method has been tried for decades with zero effect, because the vocal voices have been blocked from the mass media. Now that everyone owns the means of production of the media, and now that the vocal voices are free to be vocal, we are finally seeing some movement. Last decade or so have seen big changes in the discourse about evolution, and real changes in the society (remember that half the expert witnesses in Dover were Panda’s Thumb bloggers, and Judge Jones’ decision makes all other attempts to insert creationism into classrooms illegal – Creationism is now so politically weak, that even NCSE is moving on to more dangerous threats, e.g., global warming denialism).

    It is also important to think who your audience is, and what your goal is. You are not going to sway the activist creationist. You are talking to the silent majority of onlookers. They may come from strict religious backgrounds. They may not yet be able to deal with finesse, nuance and ambiguity (read some Lakoff, Mooney, Kahan, etc.) and will be drawn to simple, straightforward and self-assured arguments given strongly and even aggressively. Nobody wants to be on the side that is mocked, laughed at, or denigrated.

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  8. 8. kentmi 2:06 pm 09/2/2012

    Bill Nye did childrens shows for years, accusing him of talking down to his audience should only be merited when he does remake of an ’95 episode of Bill Nye the Science for a bunch of engineers (even though they probably would still enjoy it). In this video he is simply expressing his frustrations. The creation vs evolution debate has been drawn out longer than the stretchiest of Stretch Armstrong arms. It should be dead in the United States. There is no god. Religion is constantly putting a burden on society with respect to various issues social equality, education, scientific progress, and etc.

    So even though I understand that because Bill Nye was unofficially drafted as one of the knights of atheism people expect him be the happy, quirky lab knight, I don’t think this video deserves to be dissected. He is simply a frustrated educator. What deserves to be dissected is the education our children are provided.

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  9. 9. marclevesque 2:46 pm 09/2/2012

    @Bora Zivkovic

    “In the media, though, a direct method – like the one Bill Nye used in the video, is more effective.”

    Concerning the direct/”indirect” perspective. Does any data support the idea that a direct method, as you are describing it, is more effective.

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  10. 10. marclevesque 2:56 pm 09/2/2012

    @jbohland

    How would PD “pull” the people that believe 1+1=3 into the tent of 1+1=2?

    Paraphrase: “I want to encourage you to explore the concept that there is some truth to the idea that 1+1=2. I don’t necessarily want to convince you today that you have to stop believing 1+1=3, rather to invite you today to be open the idea that 1+1=2. I don’t want to change you today; I want to challenge you to explore this concept a little deeper.”

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  11. 11. greg_t_laden 3:49 pm 09/2/2012

    I’ve written more extensive comments on this post here but I want to bring the key points up here because it may be a more appropriate place for the discussion. First, I want to thank Marc for bringing an expert on communication and a well known communicator of science together (in a sense) for some dialog on how to do it all better. People can be cynical about marketing but every tool is important in this fight, and it is an important fight.

    I mainly want to mention the idea that Bill Nye’s video can’t address a median view of the evolution-creationism debate because Bill Nye is already positioned in a certain place in this discussion, and it is pretty firmly on the side of the debate where reconciliation between religion and science isn’t realistic or necessary. There ar in fact multiple points of view, and people are in different positions and therefore many of us feel that multiple approaches must be used.

    Some strategies are bound to step on each other; an “in your face” strategy might turn off people who would have been convinced to “believe in” (bad term) evolution had they only met with the right argument first. Antagonizing people who are unlikely to be convinced to change their minds about evolution might be bad (no sense in playing to the other guy’s base!) but it is not as bad as throwing science under the bus by playing to an appeasement strategy (allowing for a limited amount of supernatural cause to co-exist with the science). There are those of us who think the “overton window” might be real. Nye is nowhere near the far end of the spectrum but movement outside the ideal range can move that window. Certainly, spending much effort on the side of the spectrum we would like to move opinion against is not good, should this magic window actually exist.

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  12. 12. vaeide621 5:13 pm 09/2/2012

    Here’s what PD said: “He could have also used an example or story of how a similar situation may have happened in the past. For example, Galileo and his theory of how the earth revolved around the sun. At the time many did not believe him and over time we have come to learn that this was in fact true.” Oh, really? Is this recent? That’s amazing. I hadn’t heard that. It really is true, then? Oh gosh, I’m glad I read this article. All my life I thought everything revolved around us, I mean, me, and my friends, of course. But they honestly verified it? I’ve got to get on the phone and tell everyone I know at church, oh and my mother, and everyone in Sheepsville. That’s in Arkansas. That’s where we hale from, lalala. Mom I know will say it’s amazing. Oh, I said, didn’t I. haha,

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  13. 13. julianpenrod 5:19 pm 09/2/2012

    This may be removed because I am going to criticize a blogger on another website. Earlier, I criticizes the “Bad Astronomy” blogger, Phil Plait, on the Discover Magazine website. Becuase of that, I have been permanently banned from placing comments on the blog. As a result, I have been unable to question him about his own article praising Bill Nye.
    For example, Phil Plait stands four square against “Young-Earth creationism”. I tried to ask why the qualifier. I was going to say that his remark suggests that, if you concede the earth is older than 10,000 years, he’ll allow you to have creationism. He refused to print my comment. Maybe someone who followed the unwritten rule of never disagree with Phil Plait on his blog can find out what that cryptic reference means.
    I also took issue with the insistence that only those who believe in “evolution” can be “engineers would build things” and “solve problems”. Galileo is respected in “science” circles, but he never accepted “evolution”; Isaac Newton also accepted the Bible as explanation and laid the groundwork for much of physics theory and mathematical techniques; and Gregor Mendel, who derived the rules for genetic inheritance, was a monk.
    Incidentally, Bora Zivkovic endorses bare knuckles addressing of spreading “evolution” because the “be nice” method never worked. But that’s how the situation with Muslim extremists is represented. They tried for years to be given credence for the abuse they suffered at the hands of the West. When that didn’t work, it is asserted, they took matters more into their own hands. Will Bora Zivkovic extend legitimacy to Muslim extremists for their explained tactic of being “direct” when the policy of “be nice” didn’t work?
    And, to the extent that my going beyond the bounds of New World Order approved doggerel may not agree with Bore Zivkovic, leading him to ban me foreever from Scientific American, will is be because what I said was wrong or Bore Zivkovic didn’t like the way I said the truth?

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  14. 14. Bora Zivkovic 5:28 pm 09/2/2012

    Here is a response: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/09/02/bill-nye-is-not-a-businessman/

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  15. 15. Bora Zivkovic 5:29 pm 09/2/2012

    I shall leave to others to destroy the inappropriateness of the “Muslim extremists” simile.

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  16. 16. geojellyroll 5:39 pm 09/2/2012

    I’m an atheist. Having said that, I don’t like Nye or his sort. They talk as if they have some special insight into ‘the truth’…which in itself is the antithesis of science. Science is not about popularity, being ‘right’ or closed debates.

    99.9% of science has nothing to do with topical subjects such as Evolution vs Creationism. Folks who worship a dead-guy-on-a-stick can still be top notch chemists, aeronautics engineers and medical researchers.

    The world has largely moved beyond this debate and most of the world has moved beyond mythical beings having any meaningful impact on society. I really don’t care if Catholics drink the blood of Christ, Hindus worship an elephant or fundies go to a Noah’s Ark theme park….it doesn’t alter the principals of matter and energy.

    My father use to tell my brothers and I that we are Jewish and therefore too intelligent to believe in Judaism but that we need to be wise enough to play along. That’s what Nye and his type need to realize… Religion today doesn’t really matter….let the whackos enjoy their last hurrahs. One only strengthens the creationists longevity by poking a stick in their eye.

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  17. 17. geojellyroll 5:57 pm 09/2/2012

    Re a comment about a lot of engineers supporting creationism. This just tells me engineers are logical.

    Anyone with a knowledge of physics should understand that a god influencing the behavior of one atom is no less a feat than a god creating everything in six days. Once one asccepts that there is a magic wand then ‘everything and anything’ is as rational as anything else. It’s nonsensical to believe in a god that has done, does or will do anything at all yet at the same time call Creationism irrational. It’s like being a little bit pregnant.

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  18. 18. marclevesque 5:58 pm 09/2/2012

    @Bora Zivkovic

    I doubt your opposition of direct or vocal voices with nice or gentle hand-holding friendly tactics is accurate. For sure, being respectful is not soft.

    “[...] will be drawn to simple, straightforward and self-assured arguments given strongly and even aggressively.”

    Yes, as people are also drawn to some preachers and fox tv personalities, but, I don’t think Bill Nye’s words as presented in the video are simple or straightforward, or really self-assured.

    “Nobody wants to be on the side that is mocked, laughed at, or denigrated.”

    That makes me uncomfortable. I’m not sure how it fits in the topic.

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  19. 19. Bora Zivkovic 6:06 pm 09/2/2012

    I talked about synergy of the two approaches, not opposition.

    I did not use the word “soft”.

    Also, Dawkins et al. are very respectful, but not perceived as such by the opponents who personally identify with their beliefs (i.e., cannot distinguish between criticism of belief and criticism of believer). Matter of perceptions.

    But vocal people move the Overton Window and affect what is appropriate discourse in the mainstream media. That is essential for the gentle people on the ground to do their work in the trenches.

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  20. 20. Bora Zivkovic 6:42 pm 09/2/2012

    @marclevesque comment #9:

    It is hard to do good metrics yet. The PEW and other polls are marred by having to use the same questions every year, and those questions are badly worded, thus the percentage of the US population as measureed by those surveys is remaining steady at about half.

    Thus, one has to look indirectly. One way is to look at the way the media covers evolution. Mass media is both dictating what is and what is not “mainstream opinion” (see, importantly: http://archive.pressthink.org/2009/01/12/atomization.html ) and a reflection of the current state of mind of the population. It is media’s second nature to proffer false balance, the he-said-she-said stenography in which there are two equal sides and each is given a quote, with no hints as to which side is more correct than the other. This media propensity is ably abused by the side pushing for ideological points of view that have no basis in reality – just watch the GOP campaign this year: http://pressthink.org/2012/08/presspushback/

    Thus, it is telling when one watches how the media covers evolution. As recently as five years ago, most articles did the he-said-she-said when covering evolution, giving a microphone and a quote to a Creationist. Rare exceptions to this rule were cheered exactly because they were rare exceptions. But take a look now – it is now very rare to find an article about evolution that even mentions creationism or any kind of existence of a “controversy”. What gives? In its cowardice, mainstream media will become a truth-teller in one of these two scenarios: a) one side decisively trounces the other, or b) one side majorly pisses off the media itself. They also watch each other for courage – it is easier to be the tenth journalist calling a spade a spade than the first one. In the case of Romney/Ryan systematic lying, it is the case b) – media got pissed. In the case of creationism, it is the Dover trial that sealed the deal. There was a powerful written decision handed down by Judge Jones at effectively killed Intelligent Design Creationism (and of course all the stronger versions of Creationism) as a political issue. With the cover of Dover trial, the media felt they could be “safe” in ignoring the creationist point of view. By doing that now, the media is influencing the way the audience thinks about evolution, but that is a slow process.

    Now we need a climate version of Dover, so the media can start covering this, much more urgent issue, correctly. After all, US creationism is a US problem. If all Americans decided to move back to the caves and replace language with grunting, the other 200 countries on the planet would laugh, then ignore, then happily move on. There is no necessity in the USA being the political, economic or military superpower – just historical contingency. On the other hand, climate change is a global problem and US action on this front does affect the other 200 countries.

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  21. 21. marclevesque 8:07 pm 09/2/2012

    @ 19. Bora Zivkovic

    “I talked about synergy of the two approaches, not opposition”

    Agreed. I worded that badly, I didn’t mean they (direct, gentle, vocal, etc) are in opposition I meant they are not distinct approaches. And you just used the word synergy so I’m happy.

    “I did not use the word “soft”.”

    Agreed, I did.

    “Also, Dawkins et al. are very respectful, but not perceived as such by the opponents who personally identify with their beliefs (i.e., cannot distinguish between criticism of belief and criticism of believer). Matter of perceptions.”

    I feel Nye was not really respectful or disrespectful. But I feel Dawkin has said things in the past that are probably not intended as disrespectful –to actually be disrespectful. And that’s pretty much how I feel about your comment #15.

    “But vocal people move the Overton Window and affect what is appropriate discourse in the mainstream media. That is essential for the gentle people on the ground to do their work in the trenches.”

    I feel Bill Nye’s video’s not really good or bad, it has it’s problems but as you say it may serve a purpose. That said I feel the genre, or approach, his video uses could be done much better and I would surely like to see less talk of things like others being crazy.

    I also feel Patrick Donadio’s approach, as presented, is not very useful. I find he makes some very good points but then his examples on how to address the issues sound like stilted hypnosis scripts.

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  22. 22. jctyler 8:10 pm 09/2/2012

    “professional business communicator” = bullshit artists usually hired to hide business stupidity/criminality behind a wall of stiff, unnatural and often idiot vocabulary.

    The only thing they are really good at is making themselves look very important so that they can charge a fortune for their crap.

    Be honest, be simple. Listen to what those people whom you are adressing say about your presentation.

    And when you meet a nutter, say that he is a nutter.

    Three million people watched Nye’s video on youtube? How many would have watched if this professional business communication expert would have done the video?

    Get a job. A honest one.

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  23. 23. marclevesque 8:28 pm 09/2/2012

    @ 20. Bora Zivkovic

    Humm. The media likes controversy. Even manufacture ones.

    But on the other side of creationists, and what I dislike about some of the scientists and science reporting today, is the assumption or point of view that science can, or will, explain everything. Not that religion can, but that and all the unsupported and sweeping “scientific” statements we are exposed to today, with media’s help, do not help lower the opposition to (good) science.

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  24. 24. greg_t_laden 8:37 pm 09/2/2012

    I had no idea that Galileo and Newton had not accepted Darwinian theories. How dare they not!

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  25. 25. Bora Zivkovic 8:39 pm 09/2/2012

    Yes, @marclevesque, I agree. But that is not really the topic of these two posts. It is what Larry Moran and John Wilkins are discussing this week on their blogs, or the reactions to Maria Konnikova’s posts from two weeks ago. Somewhat related, but distinct topic. And definitely something people have been discussing for decades, separate from the issue of science communication, or anti-Creationist struggle.

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  26. 26. Bora Zivkovic 8:41 pm 09/2/2012

    BTW, this question – about vocal vs. accommodationist method – pops up in science blogosphere every year for the past decade or so. See the 2007 version: http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2007/04/20/onestop-shopping-for-the-frami/ but there is much more…

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  27. 27. greg_t_laden 10:16 pm 09/2/2012

    The nostalgia is going to give me nightmares tonight…. better have some tea.

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  28. 28. mkuchner 11:51 pm 09/2/2012

    Thank you, everyone, for all the constructive comments.
    I didn’t have space in my piece to discuss the Overton window angle, so I’m delighted to see the concept get some space here. I am still catching up on all of the comments, but let me add one thing, if I may.

    Marketing–my favorite toolkit for addressing this issue–is not the same as accommodating or framing. Marketing allows for the synergy BoraZ called for–indeed for whatever combination of approaches speaks best to the range of emotions, logical capabilities, and faulty wiring we call the human spirit. It’s about figuring out what the needs and wants of your audience are, and understanding how you can meet those needs. Once you meet those needs, you are more likely to get what you want.

    For example, creationists, and those on the fence about the issue, need to feel like their beliefs and autonomy are respected. When these needs go unmet they may be unlikely to benefit from any further discussion, just as a person who is starving can’t enjoy opera. On those occasions when are directly marketing our ideas to this audience (that’s the perspective I considered in this piece), we are bound to stumble upon this truth.

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  29. 29. mkuchner 12:23 am 09/3/2012

    Colleagues, who exactly do you think Bill Nye’s intended audience for the video was?

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  30. 30. johnb123 12:34 am 09/3/2012

    In the first 45 secs, Bill Nye says that those who don’t believe in evolution hold everyone else back. Is your belief in evolution so fragile that you must have everyone believe as you? It seems he blaming Creationist for the failures of this country.

    Link to this
  31. 31. Bora Zivkovic 12:37 am 09/3/2012

    “…who exactly do you think Bill Nye’s intended audience for the video was?…”

    Friends of Friends on Facebook. Seriously. Trust is transitive. People on the fence who trust their friends who trust Bill Nye….

    Link to this
  32. 32. VivaLaEvolucion 3:06 am 09/3/2012

    I am with Bill Nye in regards that there comes a point when you have to tell people that 2 + 2 = 4, and if they don’t believe that then they are not only crazy, but also fU(K1N$ DUSH bags :-) . Also, I have noticed that many of the same people who deny global warming are also creationist, and anti-evolution, and pro dirty unsustainable fossil fuel, and against alternative energy (aka, DUSH bags). Pardon my french. But, I am confident that human intellect will prevail, and that the creationist (fairy-tale) world view will gradually be replaced with the tried and true evolution theory that science provides. VivaLaEvolucion.com

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  33. 33. VivaLaEvolucion 3:29 am 09/3/2012

    P.S. Bill Nye should be cast in an Abe Lincoln role.

    Link to this
  34. 34. nonreturn 7:02 am 09/3/2012

    It’s easy to discuss this point in the 21st century. When Newton and Galileo were working many of there collogues were beheaded, burned at the stake or crucified upside down. Both considered priesthood before bravely reaching out to science.

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  35. 35. IncredibleMouse 8:59 am 09/3/2012

    Is the message meant to simply be cruel, or is there a real gap in knowledge? Nye was -not- being cruel, to just be cruel. Conversely, it’s easily argued he’s preventing cruelty. That’s a big difference I see here. “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts”, comes to mind.

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  36. 36. chilehed 9:00 am 09/3/2012

    Donaldio’s absolutely correct. I’m an engineer, graduated in the top 3% of my class and my colleagues think I’m pretty good at it. I did not believe in evolution for a long time afterward, and I know a fair number of extremely talented engineers who still don’t believe in it. If Nye intended to change people’s minds, his video is an abysmal failure.

    Donaldio’s comments about Galileo are badly misplaced; there’s a huge popular mythology about that affair. Galileo didn’t invent heliocentricity; Copernicus proposed it a hundred years prior to Galileo, and in fact the theory was known since the time of the Greeks. Like Copernicus, Galileo was initially very well received in Rome. A big part of the reason no one believed that his model reflected reality was that he didn’t actually prove it, and in fact his model was wrong. It was based on a philosophical assumption that orbits had to be circular (which is wrong), and when challenged to come up with proof he produced a theory that tides are caused by the rotation of the earth (also wrong). The strongest argument against his theory was one from Aristotle, who pointed out that it would result in parallax shifts in the heavenly bodies. Galileo could supply no evidence of those shifts.

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  37. 37. jctyler 9:48 am 09/3/2012

    “For example, creationists, and those on the fence about the issue, need to feel like their beliefs and autonomy are respected.”

    I respect them as people but why that means I should respect them when they are stupid is beyond me.

    Still in 2006 nearly one fifth of the adult US population believed that the sun revolves around Earth (Miller, Chicago U, education research). I respect those millions as human beings but must I respect their belief? Of bloddy-hell-course not.

    Instead I must wonder if creationism is not ultimately the result of a lousy educational system which favors the rich and disses the poor. And if there is not a certain method to that. Read Stiglitz on US economy and what it really means. And you talk respect in that context? How respectful is it when a talented but poor student must work in a fast-food joint to even survive when a completely untalented but rich and well-connected dumbo can dodge the draft and become president? Of course he is representative. But representative of what? And you talk about respect? You can’t get your priorities right because you don’t know what the priorities are.

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  38. 38. mihondo 10:28 am 09/3/2012

    “Why do there seem to be more engineers that believe in creationism?”

    There are more engineers than scientists.

    I also suspect that you can “do engineering” without interfering with those religious beliefs (as long as you don’t examine the underpinnings of the technology to closely …).

    “Science” and “Engineering” are not monolithic. Some areas intersect the religious issues more than others. And people are really very good at holding two contradicting ideas in there head at the same time… that is the root of many religions, Christianity included.

    The piece probably will not convince any crationists / young-earthers; but it may help the rest of us to be more vocal. There are plenty of people yelling at us to believe in the god hypothesis; more people need to be vocal with the science.

    I think Nye is correct in saying that ‘creationism’ can hold us back. If kids really believe it, they are less likely to go into the fields of study that really contradict those beliefs.

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  39. 39. jctyler 11:03 am 09/3/2012

    “I’m an engineer, graduated in the top 3% of my class and my colleagues think I’m pretty good at it. I did not believe in evolution for a long time afterward, and I know a fair number of extremely talented engineers who still don’t believe in it.”

    From a European point of view, this is something we find fascinatingly typical for US culture. In Europe there is no problem being a scientist or an engineer and still be a practising Christian. Faith is about moral code, not about science. Europeans do not consider religion a basis for their appreciation of science whereas in the US many still believe that science should be based on the bible. Which might to a great part be explained by our belief that anyone talented should have the right AND the opportunity to study regardless of the economic resources of her parents. One of the advantages of our school system is that we are better immunized against religious brain-washing.

    “If Nye intended to change people’s minds, his video is an abysmal failure.”

    I don’t think that is what he intended. Seems to me he rather tried to warn those who don’t know what to stay away from.

    Take AGW: it’s what scientists try to do when AGW deniers comment inanely here. Their comments are not necessarily meant to convert the deniers, rather to show the deniers as the pillocks they are so that those who don’t know what to think have a better chance of making the right choice.

    Nye is sincere. That comes across. And that is the first virtue every public speech should have. Sincerity is very hard to fake. It is the “professional business communicator”s job to try to fake that. A job that is most needed and therefore pays best when the customer is a lying, cheating industrialist or banker. Failing to fake it outright, his next attempt will be to package the crap so that it looks like a ton of gold. That’s what they get paid for. By those who need that kind of service.

    Did Buffett, Gates, Jobs need them? No. Did Einstein need one? Do scientists in general need them? No. All they need is relearn the vocabulary that is spoken outside the ivory tower.

    As for Galileo, yes, you are right of course. But his role was not to explain tides or prove heliocentricity, his role was to open the door to modern science. That he didn’t find the light switch is not a problem, what is important is that he opened the door to the room where the switch was. That IMO is where his importance is.

    It’s a good thing I can use all of this for my own work. Else it would drive me nuts. Or has it?

    Remember, political correctness is just another professional business bullshit artist denier creationist fake term.

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  40. 40. geojellyroll 12:20 pm 09/3/2012

    The USA has the largest percent of religious whackos in th western world. The largest percent of who still worship a dead-guy-on-a-stick.

    Yet the USA still often sweeps Nobel pries in science…U.S. universitiers dominate science at academic levels. The U.S. dominates most science and technology from astronomy to aeronautic engineering.

    Creationism is a non-issue. It’s impact is more or less zip on science. 1.3 billon Chinese do not believe in Creatioinism but lag behind the USA in just about every field of science.

    The problem with Nye is he makes silly comments about the link between Creationism and the level of science in the USA. These baloney comments just feed the religious whackos. Fundy preachers will ask the engineers, chemists, doctors, etc. in their audience to stand up and tell the rest of the flock what they do and how it isn’t in any way hindered by a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    The irony is that Nye himself is more of a preacher than a scienctist. He makes unproven links based on non evidence and loses credibility.

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  41. 41. johnb123 1:43 pm 09/3/2012

    I never knew, as one who believes in Intelligent Design, I have the power to bring down western civilization…..according to Bill Nye :)

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  42. 42. jctyler 2:28 pm 09/3/2012

    Hello my whacko friend, yes the US still gets Nobel prizes, a large part of the reason being that its research centers are very pointed and everything else falls off, another part being that those US universities that are very rich buy young researchers from all over the world. But your working-class talent can’t go to university if their parents don’t go into debt for fifty years? It’s money-based, it’s paid-for science, research on demand. How many US universities would let an Andrew Wiles do his thing for years without a return-of-investment guarantee? Science by money, money buy science, brain drain. But if money was everything, Europeans wouldn’t get any of the Nobel thingies. So first of all, you gotta see it in context, then relate it to material and human resources and if you do that the US starts to look rather very average.

    The Nobel is therefore not really a good indicator of a country’s scientific standing. The social trickle-down of your sciences is really the lowest minimum that one would expect from the world’s richest country. Look at a list of Nobels in physics, chemistry and medicine, put that in relation to national wealth and natural resources and you look outright stupid. A good thing that one Stiglitz is worth ten Friedmans.

    OTOH, you could easily win a Darwin award. Donate your brain.

    … dominate nothing.

    Or as someone put it the other day, only look at US media technology and the American environment and the quality of their household appliances and their Arianes and Airbuses, oops, something’s wrong here, or why rich Americans would never buy Ferraris or an IWC grande complication if they can have a collector’s Aztek or a Walmart Chronex. And when you get something right you invent the weirdest anti-science blogs in the universe which force schools to teach pseudo-creationism as an antidote to Darwinism. If that is not hilarious, what is?

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  43. 43. jctyler 2:30 pm 09/3/2012

    (SciAm html code at its best I see – can’t quote the usual way in blogs: it simply dumped my quotes from geojellyroll; ah well, what’s a little bandwidth these days?)

    “Yet the USA still often sweeps Nobel prices in science.”

    Hello my whacko friend, yes the US still gets Nobel prizes, a large part of the reason being that its research centers are very pointed and everything else falls off, another part being that those US universities that are very rich buy young researchers from all over the world. But your working-class talent can’t go to university if their parents don’t go into debt for fifty years? It’s money-based, it’s paid-for science, research on demand. How many US universities would let an Andrew Wiles do his thing for years without a return-of-investment guarantee? Science by money, money buy science, brain drain. But if money was everything, Europeans wouldn’t get any of the Nobel thingies. So first of all, you gotta see it in context, then relate it to material and human resources and if you do that the US starts to look rather very average.

    The Nobel is therefore not really a good indicator of a country’s scientific standing. The social trickle-down of your sciences is really the lowest minimum that one would expect from the world’s richest country. Look at a list of Nobels in physics, chemistry and medicine, put that in relation to national wealth and natural resources and you look outright stupid. A good thing that one Stiglitz is worth ten Friedmans.

    OTOH, you could easily win a Darwin award. Donate your brain.

    “US universities…”

    … dominate nothing.

    “The U.S. dominates most science and technology from astronomy to aeronautic engineering.”

    Or as someone put it the other day, only look at US media technology and the American environment and the quality of their household appliances and their Arianes and Airbuses, oops, something’s wrong here, or why rich Americans would never buy Ferraris or an IWC grande complication if they can have a collector’s Aztek or a Walmart Chronex. And when you get something right you invent the weirdest anti-science blogs in the universe which force schools to teach pseudo-creationism as an antidote to Darwinism. If that is not hilarious, what is?

    Link to this
  44. 44. geojellyroll 2:51 pm 09/3/2012

    jctyler. I presume that English isn’t your first language so i can forgive that but your incoherent ramblings are just odd.

    Ferraris and Walmart Chronex? So does Creationism encourage or discourage buying an Italian car or a Chinese watch? If either, your logic is baffling.

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  45. 45. jctyler 4:09 pm 09/3/2012

    geojelly: you first wrote that “the U.S. dominates most science and technology from astronomy to aeronautic engineering”

    seen your usual bias I would have been amazed if you had admitted that you understand the reference to your car and watch technologies vs Ferrari and IWC. (Walmart produces its own brands in China based on US technology.)

    But then you’re the true you again when you chose to overlook the reference to Arianes and Airbuses. I recognize your usual strategy from your untainted of any fact AGW comments.

    As long as your creative interpretation of the state of US technology stays intact in your mind your interpretation of science is proven valid enough for you, right? But then you always create your own reality. You are a TRUE creationist.

    “I presume that English isn’t your first language so i can forgive that but your incoherent ramblings are just odd.”

    You wouldn’t have noticed, braggart, you only know because once in a while when context requires it I mention that English is not my main language. OTOH, compared to your English, I’m Shakespeare. The rest of your sentence seems a self-critical description of its author so who am I to contradict?

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  46. 46. mike_midwest 5:11 pm 09/3/2012

    One thing I learned in teaching is that you cannot make someone smarter by calling them stupid.

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  47. 47. geojellyroll 6:40 pm 09/3/2012

    Mike, good point.

    Not only can you not make them smarter make but don’t assume they are not as smart as you.

    Intelligent people vote for ‘the other guy’, have different opinions on social issues, and, yes, have different religious beliefs.

    When someone has a belief other that our own it’s productive to ask a sincere question such as ‘why do you believe that?’ and actually LISTEN to their answer. The tendency is to try and discount their reason before we give it any thought.

    I’m an atheist but as a geologist even I question a lot ‘evidence’ for evolution. I accept evolution but some of the arguments for evolution can be wonky. I can understand why a Creationist finds holes in evoltionary theory as presented in the public media.

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  48. 48. HowardB 7:38 pm 09/3/2012

    “One thing I learned in teaching is that you cannot make someone smarter by calling them stupid.”

    One thing I learned in life is that some people are just stupid, and cannot be taught because they don’t want to listen or learn.

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  49. 49. jctyler 8:02 pm 09/3/2012

    mike, we are talking about adults here, not schoolkids.

    Either geojelly is of limited mental talent and then the least I expect is him looking up the proofs provided and I and some others have picked easy ones that any SciAm reader should be able to understand or he is in the wrong place here anyway, or he is stupid, by birth or desire, and then he has to live with it.

    But I see you are applauded by geojelly. As compliments go…

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  50. 50. SoundAndFury 1:01 am 09/4/2012

    I agree with the basic premise of the article. We’ere not going to get very far by ridiculing people. In my view, the fewer pseudo-intellectual, newly-atheist-because-Hitchens-told-me-to-be-one teenagers and immature adults, who call not just creationists, but all religious people inbred, sub-human, retards, the better.

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  51. 51. justmerightnow 9:44 am 09/4/2012

    We should ABSOLUTELY resort to ridiculing creationists — or anyone really who dismissed evidence and facts. Wasn’t it Jefferson that said, “Resort is had to ridicule only when reason is against us.”

    Tell me this: What evidence are you going to present to someone who doesn’t respect evidence? What rationale are you going to offer someone who doesn’t respect rationale? What sound reasoning are you going to tell someone who doesn’t respect reason?

    If you can’t reason with someone, and you can’t convince them using facts and evidence, your last, perhaps only, tool is ridicule.

    I’m sorry, but just as Bill Nye said, you can’t have a progressive, forward-thinking society when a chunk of the people in it, do not understand Science and do not respect evidence. You must simply ridicule them and make them feel absolutely foolish for believing in foolish things.

    I watched that video twice and found it wonderful. Bill Nye says NOTHING shocking but is, in fact, very soft in his criticism of those that believe in foolish things.

    What the hell is Marc Kuchner talking about when he says he watched the video and “cringed”? From what? Did we watch the same video as him?

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  52. 52. marclevesque 11:07 am 09/4/2012

    48. HowardB
    51. justmerightnow

    Because you cannot teach some people does not imply nobody can teach them.

    51. justmerightnow

    “What the hell is Marc Kuchner talking about when he says he watched the video and “cringed”?”

    Nye’s last comments on craziness and that religious beliefs will be proven false and won’t exist in 200 years are derision, not criticism.

    “You must simply ridicule them and make them feel absolutely foolish for believing in foolish things.”

    If I am derisive (down laugh) that belief of yours, will you change it?

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  53. 53. greg_t_laden 11:26 am 09/4/2012

    See: Critiquing the critique of the critique of the critique of the critique of Bill Nye’s video

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  54. 54. marclevesque 7:41 pm 09/4/2012

    53. greg_t_laden

    “We don’t rid a society of racism by convincing everyone it is wrong (though that would be nice). Rather, we rid a society of racism by using social pressure to make everyone who has racist thoughts keep them to themselves.”

    It is not one or the other.

    “The appropriate question is how do we make “acceptance of evolution” something that is normal and desirable and not embarrassing to profess, and at the same time “belief in creationism” something that IS embarrassing to profess, and better left unspoken.”

    I gather you are following the long+short term frame model of change and are referring to the need of setting the stage for the future, and I don’t disagree. Where I diverge, and I think from @07. Bora Zivkovice also, is on the usefulness of things like derision, e.g.: it is one thing to not speak of xyz because most people around you will disagree, it is quite another to not speak about xyz because you fear derision.

    Derision is not a productive way to set the stage for, or for the actual promotion of, social discourse, and it doesn’t depend on who the intended audience is. Now the derision in Nye’s video is very light, but when asked if it could be replaced with another technique, I say yes, of course, lots of options, stronger ones too.

    Our culture does have a lot of derision. But as a rule it is not productive when we do it or when it is done to us.

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  55. 55. jctyler 11:05 am 09/5/2012

    When neither reason nor proof or common sense are accepted and someone who is obviously wrong still insists on being taken seriously, ridicule is an unavoidable consequence (except if it’s a child, already because children are as a rule open to reason).
    Example: to pretend in september 2012 that the ice shelf is growing like crazy and calling everyone disagreeing an anti-american communist liberal is screaming for derision.

    You want to believe in the bible as a book of morals? Fine. Does that mean the bible is a book of science? No.

    I can be a European scientist and still believe in the spiritual message of christianism without going for that creationist thing. Why is that apparently not possible in the US (according to the tenor of the comments here)? It’s really so pubescent.

    Sure that Nye is wrong when he “believes” that religion will be extinct in a few hundred years. That is a bit, erm, ridiculous as it is obvious that he underestimates and even completely misunderstands the necessity for spiritual, non-scientific, inspiration. OTOH if I dare say it, he’s so “american” in his naivety. Which again makes him so good at talking to kids.

    And all that.

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  56. 56. christinaak 11:08 am 09/6/2012

    If I were teaching a high school biology class I would spend the 1st week of class introducing the students to general systems theory (in a simplified form-reference Bertalanffy,). I would ask the students questions with the goal of leading them to the inevitable conclusion that all systems evolve or die(I would ask for example what kind of transportation was used to get them to school. Do any of the students speak Old English or Latin as their 1st language? ). By demonstrating that evolution is a universally applicable principle it will make it easier to persuade students who are uncertain that biological evolution not only makes sense but is inevitable. For those students hopelessly blinded by faith no amount of evidence or rational arguments will suffice (we will have to just wait until their numbers diminish as society evolves). christina a knight

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  57. 57. ronb 3:29 pm 09/6/2012

    I believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate and creator of the universe but I don’t think that scripture can nor should be used to teach creationism. It’s not a biology or geology book, it’s a book about redemption.
    Given that, I do not believe we are here by accident. Belief in evolution requires believing, and telling our children, that we came from nothing and without a cause.
    I’m with RC Sproul on this when he writes, ”Is man in his origin the product of a purposive act of divine intelligence, or is man a cosmic accident? In other words, am I a creature of dignity or a creature of cosmic insignificance? That’s a pretty heavy issue because if I just sort of popped into being or emerged from the slime and I’m destined for annihilation, I can only fantasize that somehow in between those two poles of origin and destiny I have meaning and significance and dignity. But that’s wishful thinking of the worst sort. Obviously if I come from nothing and go to nothing, I am nothing under any objective analysis.”
    I think Mr. Nye and all of humanity are significant and meaningful creatures of God and it saddens me to hear a respected teacher like Nye dismiss the faithful so frivolously.

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  58. 58. a 4:13 am 09/7/2012

    marclevesque
    invite you today to be open the idea that 1+1=2. I don’t want to change you today; I want to challenge you to explore this concept a little deeper.

    right…. :-)
    Your teaser should instead look like a tasty treat for the creationist who has grown weary of the same creationist meatloaf everyday breakfast, brunch, lunch, supper, dinner.
    desert.
    midnight snack.
    (yes, even the poor goldfish in the bowl gets the holy 1+1=3 meatloaf)

    Reconfiguring your analogy… “hey, after that joyous heavenly 1+1=3, it turns out that the bible uses that 3 and that good ol’ boy 1 again! (exciting, but not homomathual) 3+1=4!

    Be sure to refer to 3+1 as a forgotten lost scrolls traditional judeo-christian meatloaf recipe. Never ever ever call it “dancing”.

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  59. 59. a 5:00 pm 09/7/2012

    html code at its best I see – can’t quote the usual way in blogs
    I use em tags. {em} quotation{/em} But use angle brackets instead of curly brackets.
    You could try i tags, {i} quotation{/i}

    I’ve noticed the comment software eats 2 consecutive line-breaks. We can try adding a single space

    tab

    or dot
    .
    character on the “empty” line.

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  60. 60. a 5:01 pm 09/7/2012

    space and tab fail.
    .
    dot succeeds.

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  61. 61. a 5:46 pm 09/7/2012

    A transcript. But it is short. Too short.
    .
    transcript: the United States is where most of the innovations still happens.
    USPTO patent inflation, imo. “one click shopping”? Admittedly, innovation!=invention, and foreigner entities also file US patents.
    .
    People still move to the United States.
    People still ‘self-deport’ to Brazil. Also, certain nationalities immigrate to other countries than the USA. And immigrants rely on travel PR (America’s roads are paved with gold! We seek the fountain of youth! Later… tell us where they are or we’ll rape your females and cut your throats!).
    After some immigrants arrive, some flee, Marco Rubio’s grandfather among those. Apparently, he could afford coyote fees. Maybe 1950s Cuban coyotes didn’t charge the equivalent of $40,000.

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  62. 62. a 6:01 pm 09/7/2012

    Bora Zivkovic: and obviously they are quite competent in designing bridges, airplanes and computers regardless of their stance on evolution, so the idea that evolutionary thinking is essential for engineering, at least many branches of engineering, is not supported by the actual situation on the ground.
    1. I would avoid critical proximity to any civil projects that Harold Camping may have ‘designed’.
    2. Would anyone go to Orly Taitz for dental work?
    3. I recall seeing candidates for kook (Larouche’s) party claim occupations on ballots. I think I saw an untoward proportion claim CS occupations. But were they competent at their claimed occupation?
    .
    Can we find any quantitative data?

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  63. 63. a 7:08 pm 09/7/2012

    38. mihondo: I also suspect that you can “do engineering” without interfering with those religious beliefs (as long as you don’t examine the underpinnings of the technology to closely …).
    Examine biology-related “beliefs” of biomed or ag engineers?

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  64. 64. jctyler 6:16 am 09/9/2012

    in reply to “a – comment 59″:

    we don’t have em tags “{em} quotation{/em}” (copy/pasted here) in Europe unless we type ASCII code -> too complicated.

    The dot to avoid two line breaks seems to work but it would make comments look weird/unpleasant. Wouldn’t it be simpler if SciAm accepted one-line breaks as such? Surely a matter of only once defining line-breaks?

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  65. 65. mkuchner 11:07 pm 09/9/2012

    Colleagues, I would like to issue a challenge to ardent opponents of creationism: Can you make an anti-creationism video as powerful as an anti-smoking video?
    http://marketingforscientists.com/2012/09/10/bill-nye-marketing-and-the-anti-smoking-lobby-a-challenge-to-opponents-of-creationism/

    Link to this

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