The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #194

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- OCTOBER 2019 


Photo credit: Bruce Geisert     

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Strategy Through “Second Order” Science

In the face of rapidly shifting global circumstances, international knowledge and expertise have become increasingly significant resources for public planning.

National programs are simply insufficient to address such complex quandaries as global warming and loss of biodiversity. The scope of problems is just too broad.

Wide-reaching conditions compel public response to come from trans-national organizations. Consequently, the growing need for policy-relevant knowledge has in recent decades stimulated the creation and/or growth of a novel group of worldwide “expert organizations,” established as permanent, globally orchestrated entities.

 A previous Brights Bulletin, May 2019 gave mention to one such group, the IPBES Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Our newsletter was pointing Brights to IPBES’s Global Assessment 2019 and to some of its striking pronouncements about diminished biodiversity and ecosystem loss worldwide. (Those ominous findings were adopted at an IPBES plenary in late May and published in all UN languages soon thereafter.)

The IPBES is a rather recent intergovernmental body, having been formally established as an international organization only in 2012 under the auspices of the UN Environmental Programme. IPBES’s focus on assessing biodiversity and ecosystems is in response to requests from decision makers to help overcome the disconnect between science and policy and directly tackle the biodiversity crisis. It extends the UNEP focus on “inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.” [emphasis added]

Another example of an international resource for public planning is the older and more familiar, IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). IPCC uses “global average temperature (GAT)” as the organizing device around which scientific knowledge has been assessed and different policy options evaluated.

IPCC’s viewing of GATas the “pre-eminent indicator of a universal risk demanding collective action” has driven a lot of public discussion and served to underscore a need for consensus-based knowledge production and decision support. (Some analysts have deemed this framing of global climate change to be unnecessarily selective and narrow, favoring a “pluralist” approach to knowledge as a more robust basis for the governance of expertise.)

The defining characteristic of such organizations as IPBES and IPCC is that they are “entrusted with the task of reviewing and assessing the most recent scientific information produced worldwide that is relevant to an understanding of environmental change in relation to policy-relevant problems. This expertise, referred to as an assessment, can be seen as a form of second-order knowledge production (PDF). It is complementary to forms of first-order knowledge production in traditional science because such assessments articulate the highly distributed and disaggregated assortment of relevant scientific research and publications.”

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Another Roundup

Sincere gratitude goes to all of you who responded with support when you received the September Equinox appeal sent out from Brights Central.

BC had done something different this time, setting aside its  usual general funding thrust in favor of the Evolution Poster Project, this online constituency’s most successful cooperative project so far.

(The Project was facing another printing to refurbish the dwindled poster supply. We “did the switch” to earmark funds because the time was opportune to achieve the lowest per-poster printing expense we could.)

For any of you who missed opening or responding to last month’s fund appeal, please do check it out and consider lending your support.

The added help would be very welcome because, after maximizing support for the Project, it remains to keep the lights on at BC.

How else can we stay around to disseminate to schools those hundreds of 5 ½ foot wide posters we expect to soon be delivered to our office?!  :)

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Evolution – Isn’t It “Just a Theory”?

Because the recent fund request was earmarked to go 100% to strengthening teaching about evolutionary change in high schools, the email sent out from BC had as its subject line: “What Can We Do to Counter Creationism?”

Very soon after that email blast went out to Brights, BC received an email response from a Bright in Texas (USA). His own subject line referred to the fund appeal and proclaimed in all caps: “ERROR IN YOUR MESSAGE!!!”

He was in agreement with the rejection of creationism. However, as he explained: “you then ERR in promoting ‘evolution’ as the more scientific alternative!!?? … ‘evolution’ is only a THEORY!” [all caps, again]

The “just a theory” figment is quite commonplace within the American population, but it was rather unexpected, coming from a Bright.  Consequently, Dr. Futrell took time to write a personal reply. In it, she made reference to the “Theory or Fact?” statement about scientific evolutionary theory that was issued by the National Academy of Sciences.

In the event that readers of this bulletin might also find the NAS explanation useful in explaining to others , the reference to it is provided here as well.

Also, The New York Times has addressed the misconception more colloquially within its brief article: “In Science, It’s Never ‘Just a Theory’.”

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Why Does BC “Push It”? (Evolution)

It is no surprise that even some Brights can be persuaded by the “just a theory” dismissal of evolution when they are living their lives surrounded by that vernacular.

Such creationist argumentation, imbued with duplicity and conveyed via impressive media/technology, are plentiful in some geographical regions as well as in varied religious and educational contexts.

Unless one has been educated to actually comprehend authentic scientific explanations, one can fall prey to cunning misrepresentations and aphorisms (e.g., “man evolved from monkey”), and many of those abound within creationist advocacy.

Note:  The 4-part remainder of this segment of the October bulletin has been added for any readers curious about why it is that Brights Central appears to “push” the evolutionary explanation.

>>Evolution is culturally controversial.

Public pressure, usually religious, is so strong in some American communities that students will encounter no mention of evolution whatsoever, even in their high school biology classes, because teachers are so shy of facing parental outcry!

There are places where parents do not want their public schools to “teach evolution” at all, and there is often a battle between state officials and local communities regarding the science textbooks to be accepted for classroom use. 

In some communities, even very well-educated science teachers will find themselves only minimally addressing what they themselves know to be widely viewed by scientists as fundamental to biological understanding.

>> Combatting creationism is necessary. 

Countering creationists’ widespread efforts to have their explanations of reality presented as science in schools is no easy task.

Some teachers are educated in private colleges where creationist explanations are prescribed.  When they graduate and begin work in schools, what they want to teach is “creation science” rather than accepted science.

The nonprofit National Center for Science Education is among groups that work valiantly to defend sound science education in the face of creationist activism (and, more recently, a similarly-originated denial of climate change). NCSE is deeply involved in educating teachers and district personnel to understand that creationist explanations just are not science.

>> Teachers of authentic science need resources! 

Most schools and dedicated science teachers of course stand tall in their desire to ensure that students do receive an accurate grasp of science. They want the youngsters to gain a thorough comfort with the natural explanations that science has revealed. 

And that is why "the Brights" work from a different angle than the NCSE. We support those science educators who do want to teach evolutionary change, and who want the best instructional resources for their task.

The Brights' Net has sole rights to disseminate a resource that these teachers covet, and so Brights are responding to their stated needs. (Teachers must apply to receive our “Earth and Life: changes over time” poster and curriculum, stating their circumstances.)

>> Citizens of the future will face decisions. 

It is youth of today who will, as future citizens, be making key decisions and selecting (or becoming) leaders of their community, state, or nation. A firm understanding of factors in Earth’s physical/biological interrelationships will be crucial to their rendering wise assessments of data, drawing conclusions, and taking actions regarding such challenging matters as global climate change.

Already, without any advertising whatsoever, The Brights’ Evolution Poster Project has teacher applicants who are desirous of receiving the classroom tool along with suggestions for curricular uses. They know how much ofo a difference that appropriate visual resources can make in their accomplishing their teaching goals.

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Secular Survey Seeks Useful Info (USA)

The U.S. Secular Survey opened its comprehensive data collection effort on Oct. 15 (plans are to close on November 22nd).

The #SecularSurvey purpose is to gain better understanding of the life experiences of secular Americans and the civic and social disparities they may face. It is asking nonreligious individuals to “stand up and be counted.”

Thus, if you identify as secular by any label(s), then you are urged to take the survey and encouraged to ask any other nonreligious people that you know to do the same! 

The Brights’ Net is announcing this project because it will likely provide information to benefit the overall American secular movement (e.g., humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, skeptics) and provide important data to enhance advocacy and better meet the needs of brights of many stripes.

All too little is known about nonreligious Americans because federal surveys do not gather data about them. The lack of information situation can start to change if enough citizens take the United States #SecularSurvey and make themselves heard!

Go to survey.

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An Update on America’s Changing Religious Landscape

>> U.S. Rapid Pace Decline of Christianity

The latest update from Pew Research Center concerning the religious landscape of the United States relies on surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019. 

These newer surveys do not include nearly as many questions about religion as do the Pew Research Center’s 2007 and 2014 Religious Landscape Studies (those were huge national surveys, each of which included interviews with more than 35,000 respondents asked dozens of detailed questions about their religious identities, beliefs and practices).

No similarly comprehensive landscape study is now available or in the offing (and future studies may actually rely on newer methods that prevent comparisons with those prior ones). Still, there is much to be inferred from the current update survey, particularly about the rapid pace of change.

To illustrate both the rapid decline in Americans who say they are Christian and the rapid increase in the number of religious “nones” (unaffiliated), the Pew Center offers online both a discussion of the newer findings as well as an extensive set of detailed data tables.  Worth a look, if you are interested in examining the swiftness of changes that seem to be taking place.

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“Nudging” Pro-Social Conduct

Usually any wee science story volunteered to Brights bulletins by a Danish Bright will focus on an organism other than human. This month, however, we are encountering an exception: the October story’s focus is on the human animal.

In particular, the topic is how (for the good of all societies within which we find our species), it is becoming imperative to find ways to elevate pro-social choices over egoistic ones. You can read the little story in English or Danish

If you aren’t acquainted with “moral nudges,” the introduction section of the referenced research article, with its five very simple associated studies, gives you the gist. The challenge of promoting and sustaining pro-social behaviors in humans is a topic quite pertinent to October bulletin’s header graphic (see top).

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